Fantasy Impact: Tevin Coleman to the 49ers
As the free agents fly off the board, another one of the top running backs has found a new home. The San Francisco 49ers have reached a two-year agreement with Tevin Coleman worth a reported $10 million. The signing will reunite Coleman and Kyle Shanahan, who were together for two years in Atlanta.
NOT WHAT SOME EXPECTED
Seeing the details of the contract, it’s clear that Coleman cost himself quite a bit of money with his lackluster performance in 2018. He’d performed extraordinary in the backup role behind Devonta Freeman in 2016 and 2017 to the point where many thought he’d land a very lucrative deal in free agency come 2019. When Freeman went down at the start of 2018, it allowed Coleman to showcase himself in a workhorse role, putting his talents on display. While the end result shows 4.8 yards per carry, it was far from a productive season, as he totaled more than 58 rushing yards just three times all season while starting 14 games. He was even phased out of the passing game late in the year, catching just three passes over the final five games.
With all the big names signing deals, there seemed to be only one team who could offer him a 15-touch role that many thought he deserved. When the 49ers emerged with him on a two-year deal, there were plenty of questions to be asked. What does this mean for Jerick McKinnon? Wasn’t Matt Breida phenomenal in the role they asked him to play last year? Who is going to lead this team in touches? Maybe the most important question of all is: Will they cut McKinnon? He has received all the guaranteed money on his contract and if the 49ers cut him before April 1st, his 2019 salary would not be guaranteed.
When trying to assess the situation among the running backs, it’s really unfair to do so without knowing who’ll be on the roster. One thing we know for sure – Coleman and Breida will be on the roster, while McKinnon is the wild-card. So, we’ll go through each situation as best as we can.
WITH MCKINNON IN THE MIX
If McKinnon stays on the roster, it’s almost a lock that Coleman and McKinnon play the new Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman role, as McKinnon’s best comp is someone like Freeman, and Coleman is… well, he’s Coleman. With Shanahan in Atlanta from 2015-2016, in the games they both played, Coleman averaged 9.5 touches per game while Freeman netted 18.6 touches per game. It’s not quite apples to apples, as Freeman is better on early downs than McKinnon, but Shanahan clearly had Coleman in the backup role. The two-year, $10 million commitment the 49ers made to him doesn’t exactly scream workhorse money, either. If McKinnon on the roster, the best-case scenario for Coleman would be a near 50/50 split with him. We can’t totally forget about Breida, either, who came through in a big way in 2018, though health was continually a concern. He’s best used in a timeshare, but would the 49ers simply forget about him and move to the McKinnon/Coleman split?
During Shanahan’s two years in San Francisco, running backs have averaged 361.5 carries and 136.5 targets. Going back to his two years in Atlanta, running backs averaged 380.0 carries and 112.0 targets, so we’re in a very similar ballpark. You can break it down any way you want, but the running backs have averaged 495 combined carries and targets over the last four years in Shanahan’s offense and there’s little reason to think he veers far off that path. If McKinnon stays on the roster, the best-case scenario for Coleman would likely be 10-12 carries per game with 2-4 targets per game.
WITH MCKINNON OUT OF THE PICTURE
If the 49ers were to decide to part ways with McKinnon, who again, has received all of his guaranteed money, that would leave us with a Breida/Coleman timeshare, which would likely look similar, though Breida’s health issues with a big workload are likely the concern with him and it would most likely lead to a bigger portion of the pie for Coleman. Breida has averaged 4.96 yards per carry in Shanahan’s system over the last two years, but from all we’ve seen/heard out of San Francisco is that they feel he’s not “the one,” as evidenced by the massive money to McKinnon, and now the signing of Coleman. The best-case scenario for Coleman with Breida in the mix is similar to the timeshare that Breida and Carlos Hyde had in 2017 where Hyde averaged 18.7 touches per game, while Breida averaged 7.9 touches per game. However, my best guess would be that Coleman leads a 60/40 timeshare and nets around 14-16 touches per game, while Breida gets 8-12 touches per game. It’s worth noting that Coleman averaged 0.84 PPR points per touch while with Shanahan in Atlanta, so if all were parallel, he’d average 11.8-13.4 points per game in that situation, which is RB20-RB28 territory. It’s not an exact science, but rather a ballpark figure while in this offense.
Remember, it’s impossible to give any concrete thoughts on Coleman without knowing the entire plan. As mentioned above, it’d make sense for them to move on from McKinnon and use Coleman/Breida in a 60/40-type situation. Coleman is best-suited in a timeshare and after signing a deal with the 49ers backfield the way it is, it appears he knows that, too. If McKinnon is gone, Coleman is worth a top-20 running back selection with upside to finish top-12. If McKinnon remains on the roster with Breida and Coleman, it’s going to be a cluster and one that’ll be unpredictable week-to-week with the best-case scenario being 12-14 touches per game for Coleman, making him a risky RB3, but one who comes with more upside than most in that area. Stay tuned for projections, as there’s still a lot to be decided in this backfield.