(As training camps draw near, Dan Schneier will spend the next few weeks highlighting some key players to monitor in each division. Whether it’s a rookie, a sleeper, a veteran, or something else, the series will identify the most important names fantasy owners need to keep an eye on in training camp for 2018. Track the whole series here.)
The NFC West saw the rebirth of Russell Wilson as an elite QB1 in 2017. It also saw the continuation of an impossible-to-predict running back and wide receiver situation in Seattle with Jimmy Graham sucking up red-zone targets. Carlos Hyde was fed an unforeseen number of targets as he carried the 49ers fantasy offense until Jimmy Garoppolo arrived and got things rolling for Marquise Goodwin. The Arizona Cardinals season seemed doomed the minute David Johnson suffered a fluky Week 1 injury and the Los Angeles Rams were fantasy football’s breakout team — from Todd Gurley to Robert Woods to Jared Goff and even Cooper Kupp — all greatly exceeding their ADP.
In 2018, the 49ers and Rams will return a similar scheme and group of skill positions with the exception of the running back position. The 49ers have added Jerick McKinnon — at a steep price in free agency — to take over for Hyde. The Rams have swapped Sammy Watkins for Brandin Cooks in what should be a very similar role. The Seahawks have gone back in time and hired Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator — he has promised a smashmouth run-first attack — but does Seattle have the defense to make it happen? Finally, the Cardinals lose Bruce Arians’ offensive genius and vertically attacking scheme and replace him with Mike McCoy who hasn’t had sustained success since the magical season in Denver with Peyton Manning.
We are coming to the end of our division training camp previews. You can find all the previous divisions here. The goal is to provide you with players to add to your targets list now for season-long leagues, but also with players to target or avoid in best-ball drafts that are currently underway on DRAFT and MFL. Today, we’re tackling the NFC South.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers
McKinnon enters training camp and the preseason pre-draft period as one of the most intriguing fantasy assets. On one hand, his skill set appears to be a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. McKinnon has been incredibly efficient on a per-target basis in the passing game and his skill set as a runner is underdeveloped but a good fit on paper for Shanahan’s outside zone-blocking run scheme. On the other hand, McKinnon has never handled a major workload — not when Adrian Peterson got injured and not when Dalvin Cook got injured. McKinnon totaled just 201 touches in 2017 and that number will need to rise to meet his rising ADP.
The narrative: McKinnon can reach RB1 range with “1,500” total yards
Earlier this offseason, veteran 49ers beat reporter Matt Maiocco tabbed McKinnon as a candidate for 1,500 total yards claiming Shanahan views him as his next Devonta Freeman. The 49ers didn’t make him one the highest-paid running backs in the NFL to average 200 touches, but it might be a reach to expect his touches to eclipse the 300 mark given his history and his lack of success as a runner. In 2017, McKinnon played in a different offensive scheme, but ex-Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was also a big fan of the outside zone. McKinnon averaged 3.8 yards per carry after averaging 3.4 yards per carry in 2016.