You Need A QB
When we are identifying Ascending Offenses, we are looking for teams that have put all the right pieces in place – an effective scheme, a competent quarterback and powerful offensive weaponry. An offense that puts all these pieces together reaches the peak of its powers in a given season and sends all its component parts into orbit. The 49ers’ offense, stocked with top-tier offensive weapons, has been proficient with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, but has also had its ceiling capped by his limitations. They now enter the 2023 season having moved on from Garoppolo, but also with some uncertainty at the quarterback position.
It has been thought Kyle Shanahan just needs a “video game controller” at QB – a game manager to step in and execute his well-orchestrated designs. At the same time, Shanahan and the Niners have made moves that indicate they know they have a QB problem. They traded up to get Garoppolo’s replacement – Trey Lance – at 1.03 in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lance began last season as the starter, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in his second start. Garoppolo was thrust back into the starting role, but was injured himself in week 12. That paved the way for seventh-round draft pick Brock Purdy to step in under center. The offense didn’t experience a dropoff with Purdy at the helm. In fact, it became more efficient. The job is Purdy’s to lose, and he is the final piece the Niners needed to explode in 2023.
With the Last Pick in the Draft
Purdy stepped and was immediately a more dynamic passer than Garoppolo. Both he and Jimmy had high EPA-Per-Play marks. Garoppolo was at .236 EPA/Play (No. 6) and Purdy came in at .196 (No. 10). Purdy had a higher 65.6 QBR (No. 5), however, compared to Garoppolo’s 54.4 (No. 16). Purdy was also more aggressive pushing the ball downfield. He registered 8.03 (No. 3) Adjusted Yards Per Attempt, to Garoppolo’s 7.90 (No. 4). Purdy completed 16 Money Throws (1.77 per game, No. 8), as well. Garoppolo completed just 13 in his starts (1.18 per game, No. 22).
After Purdy unexpectedly gained the starting role in his rookie season, he didn’t have any bad games. He passed for at least 178 yards and two TDs in each of his first seven games. That included one playoff game versus the Seahawks when he had 332 yards passing, 3 passing TDs and one rush TD. His least productive game was against Dallas in the second round of the playoffs when he threw for just 214 yards and no touchdowns. It was a low-scoring game, but the Niners still won. Purdy displayed solid decision-making in that game, and avoided turning the ball over.
QBs with the best passer rating last season…
Brock Purdy – 107.3
Tua Tagovailoa – 105.5
Patrick Mahomes – 105.2
Jimmy Garoppolo – 103.0
Jalen Hurts – 101.6
Geno Smith – 100.9
Joe Burrow – 100.8
Jared Goff – 99.3
Josh Allen – 96.6
Andy Dalton – 95.2
Trevor Lawrence – 95.2
— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) July 29, 2023
In his regular season starts – weeks 13 through 18 – Purdy elevated the production of the main fantasy options. Christian McCaffrey was RB1, George Kittle was TE1 and Brandon Aiyuk was WR24 in PPG during that stretch. (Deebo Samuel was injured most of those games.)
Week 13 through the Divisional Round of the playoffs (when Purdy was at the helm), the Niners were No. 1 in Offensive DVOA (24.7-percent). Contrast that with the seasons when Garoppolo has been under center – the offense has been proficient, but never topped No. 5 in DVOA. Oh, and Purdy won all his games – eight straight to get to the NFC Championship. The 49ers lost that Championship Game to the Eagles when Purdy injured his UCL. You can see why Shanahan believes Purdy has earned his spot as the starter in 2023.
Since they traded for McCaffrey before Week 7 last season, the Niners have the best and most balanced offensive weaponry in the NFL. Fantasy gamers may be scared off by the balance because each of these weapons has to share the ball with the others, but the offense is also consolidated around its top four weapons. Below are the 2022 Target Shares for the 49ers’ main offensive weapons:
- Deebo – 25.4-percent (No. 19)
- Aiyuk – 23.5-percent (No. 23)
- Kittle – 19.8-percent (No. 6)
- McCaffrey – 18.6-percent, after joining team in Week 7
Here were the target shares since McCaffrey joined the team in Week 7 last season:
- Deebo – 13.5-percent (missed four-plus games)
- Aiyuk – 21.8-percent
- Kittle – 17.5-percent
- McCaffrey – 18.6-percent
With Purdy improving the offensive efficiency, these balanced target shares are enough to facilitate production for the Niners’ weapons. Aiyuk and Kittle are especially affordable at WR28 and TE4, respectively. McCaffrey and Deebo could easily return value on their RB1 and WR18 values. The real steal, however, is Purdy. Purdy is going as QB24, in round 15.
Target shares in the six games Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk were on the field together with Purdy:
Kittle 11.5% https://t.co/Ofue8U9QKE
— John Daigle (@notJDaigle) July 25, 2023
That is silly with the quiver of weapons he has available to him. Drafters are shying away from Purdy and the other weapons due to the quarterback uncertainty, but all signs point to Purdy being the starter.
The 49ers had a top-five offensive line last season, per Football Outsiders. The line is anchored by Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. They also got quality reps from center Jake Brendel, as well as linemen they have loaded up on in the NFL Draft the last few seasons. Left guard Aaron Banks, a second round pick in 2021, gave up just two sacks last season. Spencer Burford, who the team drafted in the fourth round last season, will start at right guard in the coming season. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey is gone in free agency, but will be replaced by Colton McKivitz, who the Niners drafted in the fifth round in 2020.
The o-line opens up lanes for the run game. The unit was fourth in Adjusted Line Yards with 4.70 in 2022, according to Football Outsiders. They ranked No. 22 in Power and No. 26 in Stuffed Run Rate according to that site, but allowed just 31 sacks for a 6.9-percent Adjusted Sack Rate (No. 10).
Ascending Assets to Acquire
Purdy is the most obvious buy of the bunch, as he is still being drafted as a low-end QB2. He has already shown ability to command the offense and has the best set of Yards-After-Catch weapons in the NFL. Aiyuk was the No. 17 WR with 376 YAC in 2022. Deebo was No. 8 with 480 YAC, even in limited action. Kittle was No. 6 among tight ends with 354 YAC. McCaffrey was No. 2 in YAC among RBs for the season. Purdy just has to maintain his down-field aggression and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers. Purdy himself scored 18.1 fantasy PPG during weeks when he started or played most of the snaps, good for No. 11 among QBs who played more than two games during that span. He will improve with additional reps.
McCaffrey retains his RB1 status in redraft. What we are looking for in a first-round pick is a sure thing. There is no surer thing than the most talented pass-catching running back in the NFL in the most RB-friendly environment in the NFL. The Niners spent four draft picks – a second, third and fourth in 2023 and a 2024 fifth – to acquire McCaffrey. They also wasted no time integrating him into the offense and getting him the ball. He had 10 touches on 22 snaps in his first game with the team, and 26 touches and three total touchdowns (one passing) in his second game. He is going to get the rock and produce.
Aiyuk was No. 13 in Route Win Rate (47.8-percent) in 2022. He was also No. 3 in Target Separation, creating 2.31 yards of separation at the catch point. He just gets open, earns targets and finds the end zone (No. 11 in TDs with eight last season). At WR28, draftable in the fifth round, he is more affordable than Samuel.
Kittle’s ceiling is sky-high with Purdy at the helm. He could easily come in as a top-two tight end for the season, and is being drafted as TE4 – in the sixth round. Since his rookie season, Kittle has never finished lower than TE4 in PPG. He has averaged 15.0 PPG over that span. Mark Andrews has averaged 14.1 PPG in the seasons since his rookie season. Hockenson has averaged 11.9 PPG, and has never averaged more than 12.7 points in any one season. Andrews and Hockenson are both going ahead of Kittle in drafts and Kittle just got a QB upgrade.
Putting It All Together
It is a foregone conclusion that this Niners offense possesses the best weapons in the NFL. Fantasy drafters have been lulled to sleep by the middling play of the Niners’ QBs over the years. Shanahan has never really had a quarterback that could squeeze all of the potential out of his scheme and weapons. Fantasy drafters also cannot convince themselves the Niners are going to start Purdy over Lance. That is probably because Lance was being projected to be a top QB option last season, even before he even set foot on the field for any significant time. Purdy’s potential is being downplayed, but he stepped in and immediately started producing for eight straight games. The only thing that stopped him was injury. Fantasy gamers should capitalize on the uncertainty and buy in now. It’s wheels up for this Niners offense in 2023. Shanahan got his QB.