San Francisco 49ers: 5 Players Who Will Benefit under Head Coach Kyle Shanahan
The San Francisco 49ers officially introduced Kyle Shanahan as head coach yesterday. With the focus on building the team, here are five players who stand to benefit under Shanahan’s direction in 2017.
One of the points new head coach Kyle Shanahan made in his introductory press conference with the San Francisco 49ers was to evaluate everything the team already had on its roster.
Indeed, the Niners’ current roster doesn’t exactly have a lot of talent.
But good head coaches maximize the talent available and put those players in positions to win. Shanahan’s reputation as a former offensive coordinator with the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns and, most recently, the Atlanta Falcons suggests he can do this.
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Rebuilding this roster is going to be a long, drawn-out process. Yet it’s possible to view Shanahan as the key guy to revitalize a number of players’ careers on the field.
So who are they?
Basing our analysis off previous players with whom Shanahan has worked, let’s look at five 49ers who stand to benefit under San Francisco’s new head coach.
We’ll use statistical information, scheme, some film breakdown and whatever other resources available that are pertinent.
At best, the Niners wind up having more than just a handful of offensive playmakers on the field in 2017.
And considering how porous the team’s roster is, having a few of these up-and-coming contributors will go a long way in getting San Francisco back on track.
No. 5: Offensive Guard Joshua Garnett
Entering his second year at the pro level, right guard Joshua Garnett will look to improve upon a rookie season that saw him earn a 42.4 overall grade, per Pro Football Focus, which ranked the worst among all San Francisco offensive line starters last year.
One could argue these were mere growing pains for the former first-round pick. And yet one also has to wonder how his skill set will translate over to Kyle Shanahan’s scheme.
Shanahan uses what’s called an outside-zone scheme in the running game. It’s somewhat similar to what former head coach Chip Kelly used a year ago, but Kelly primarily utilized an inside zone. In short, the difference is an offensive lineman tries to get between the defender and the sideline in the outside zone, hence opening up lanes towards the outside.
At least in theory.
Knox Barden of CBS Atlanta took a look at whether or not Garnett would be a fit for Shanahan a year ago when he was with the Falcons. Barden cited the lateral movement, which is important in any zone-blocking scheme.
Garnett has some familiarity with this now. So it’s not without reason to assume he’ll make some strides in year two.
Oh, and that’s presumably when pros make their biggest jump — after their rookie seasons.
No. 4: Tight End Vance McDonald
The 49ers lack a true No. 1 receiving threat, so Kyle Shanahan will have to make do with what he’s got. There isn’t exactly a receiver on the roster like the Falcons’ Julio Jones.
Tight end Vance McDonald signed a contract extension last year and certainly enjoyed his best season as a pro before suffering a season-ending injury.
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Shanahan doesn’t exactly feature tight ends in his offense, although he’s not afraid to use them either.
Atlanta’s best receiving tight end during the head coach’s tenure there was Jacob Tamme. In 2015, Tamme hauled in 59 passes for 657 yards and a touchdown. His numbers were down, due to injury, last year. But Tamme still managed three touchdowns and 9.5 yards per reception in eight games played.
A better comparison, talent-wise, might be the Browns’ 2014 campaign.
Shanahan utilized Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron well enough over 10 games to amass 24 catches for 424 yards. Those numbers are right in line with what McDonald put up last year, so it wouldn’t be a reach to see San Francisco’s No. 1 TE have a statistical jump this upcoming season.
No. 3: Wide Receiver Torrey Smith
Back-to-back seasons in San Francisco have not been kind to wide receiver Torrey Smith, who has endured career lows in both.
Unlike former head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, Kyle Shanahan isn’t afraid to let routes develop and to take deep strikes down the field.
Heck, this is one of the reasons why Falcons wideout Julio Jones had so much success last year. Yes, Atlanta has far more offensive firepower. But it’s also worth noting how well Shanahan schemed guys to get open.
Niner Noise’s own Rich Madrid broke down Shanahan’s passing offense, so we won’t go too deep into Xs and Os here. You can check out his work by clicking the link.
But just by watching the clip below, you can see how Shanahan engineered a play to get Jones open on this touchdown pass:
It’s also worth noting this was against the Seattle Seahawks, whom the Niners play twice a year.
Smith figures to be a big piece in this type of offensive approach. So look for the wideout to have more of an impact in 2017.
No. 2: Running Back Carlos Hyde
49ers running back Carlos Hyde came just 12 yards short of reaching 1,000 yards on the ground for the first time in his career.
True, Hyde enjoyed his best numbers under former head coach Chip Kelly, whose rushing offense ranked No. 4 in the NFL last year. But the Falcons were fifth, so one shouldn’t expect too much of a drop off.
For all the talk Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones get, and deservedly so, Atlanta’s offense is largely defined by running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground in back-to-back years under Kyle Shanahan.
And Shanahan isn’t afraid to use his tailbacks as receivers either, as this Rich Madrid gif shows below:
True, the Niners will need to add another running back via the NFL Draft or free agency — one to spell Hyde and give the offense a different look.
But also take into account Shanahan’s outside-zone concept. Zone runs are what Hyde relished at Ohio State, so it won’t be too much of an adjustment.
He just needs to stay healthy.
We have no clue who will be under center for the 49ers in 2017. It could even be Colin Kaepernick, if reports from Jerry McDonald of the San Jose Mercury News are correct.
Regardless, whoever the guy will be at the position, Kyle Shanahan has already shown a knack for scheming receivers to get open. All that matters is the final touch on a pass and the ability to recognize who will be open and when.
That’s important. But what’s also important is to note Shanahan turned former Texans QB Matt Schaub into a Pro Bowler in 2009, former Redskins QB Robert Griffin III into the 2012 Rookie of the Year and Falcons QB Matt Ryan into the league’s MVP last season.
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It’s an impressive resume.
An educated guess would be the Niners bring in a lesser-known veteran to start this season. The numbers probably won’t be indicative of the best Shanahan has produced at the position, given the lack of overall talent.
But still, with Shanahan calling the plays and drawing up the scheme, whoever is the signal-caller in San Francisco this year has to feel pretty good about taking snaps.
Even if the rest of the team isn’t very good.