It’s almost impossible to know what to make of the San Francisco 49ers heading into their season opener Sunday in Tampa Bay. Jimmy Garoppolo’s comeback from last season’s ACL tear makes him one of the NFL’s great mysteries giving the 49ers a wide range of outcomes for the season.
But even while San Francisco could go 6-10 just as easily as 10-6, we do know there are some viable fantasy options within Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Let’s take a look at three players we’d start and sit on Sunday against the Buccaneers.
TE George Kittle: It’s unlikely he’ll match his record 1,377 yards from last season. But there’s a strong chance Kittle improves on his five touchdown receptions now that Garoppolo is back under center. The 49ers struggles in the red zone in 2018 could be attributed to a few things, namely not having Garoppolo, playing an inexperienced group of receivers and tying the NFL low with seven rushing touchdowns. San Francisco’s receivers should be better in the red zone this season, particularly when Trent Tayor and Jalen Hurd return from injury. Until then, Kittle is the top option through the air. Balancing him out should be an improved running game. Speaking of...
RB Tevin Coleman: The last time Coleman played in Shanahan’s offense he scored a personal best 11 touchdowns with the Falcons in 2016. The 49ers liked Coleman for his ability to score from anywhere on the field, but 17 of 29 career touchdowns came within 10 yards, which should help San Francisco improve from last season’s red-zone misery. Coleman might cede carries to Matt Breida throughout year, but Coleman remains the top short-yardage option. Coleman’s value as a pass catcher and his ability to score should make him a valuable player in deeper leagues, even with Breida getting touches.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Admittedly, it’s tough to know what to expect from San Francisco’s franchise QB coming off the ACL tear. But there’s a good chance Sunday’s game is a high scoring affair which could lead to Garoppolo racking up points for you if you play in a deeper league or start multiple quarterbacks. Tampa Bay’s defense is rebuilt and could struggle against Shanahan’s complex attack now that most of San Francisco’s starters have had multiple years in the system. Even Garoppolo has some rust, he should be good for 250 yards and a couple scores. Interceptions could be a problem.
WR Dante Pettis: Yes, Pettis had a better training camp than he did his rookie season and he should be improved in Year 2. But he struggled to develop chemistry with Garoppolo during practices open to reporters — and Garoppolo historically has a better connection with Kittle, Marquise Goodwin and Taylor (who won’t play because of a foot injury). Pettis has some fantasy upside, we’d just like to see him connect with Garoppolo consistently before starting him.
WR Deebo Samuel: The second-round pick might be the most talented receiver on the team, but he shouldn’t be counted on to produce fantasy points during his NFL debut. The 49ers have more experienced options (Pettis, Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Richie James Jr.) who might make it tough for Samuel to get the snaps he needs to develop a rhythm. Samuel may get force-fed some touches on jet sweeps or bubble screens while he continues to get comfortable in Shanahan’s complex offense. But it’s hard to envision that being enough for fantasy purposes. Like Pettis, wait and see before starting Samuel.
Game prediction against the spread
The 49ers are either 1- or 2-point underdogs, depending where you look, and are +110 on the money line to win. San Francisco has a few advantages over the Buccaneers. The roster, overall, is more talented with Nick Bosa and Dee Ford rushing Jameis Winston off the edges to complement future star DeForest Buckner in the middle. The team has more continuity entering Year 3 under Shanahan while the Bucs are playing their first game under Bruce Arians.
But San Francisco hasn’t won a game in the eastern time zone since Jim Harbaugh was coach in 2014. And not even a heated tent or weight-room-turned-sauna can prepare the 49ers for the humidity facing them on a summer afternoon in early September in Tampa.
The Buccaneers have the advantage of being almost entirely unscouted with Arians coaching his first game. And the 49ers don’t have an answer for all-world receiver Mike Evans, particularly with second-string free safety Tarvarius Moore getting the start.
Until we know the 49ers can win a game on the east coast, it’s simply too difficult to count on them to win you money this week.
Take Tampa (-1 or -2), though we don’t feel great about it. Wait until next week to take the 49ers when they play against the Bengals, who are shaping up to be arguably the worst team in the NFL in 2019.