Tevin Coleman signed a bafflingly awful two-year, $10 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. It contains no guaranteed money outside of the first year. It is hysterically bad, and it was likely a concession for Coleman to play for Kyle Shanahan once again. Unfortunately for Coleman and the 49ers running back room, this is a disastrous development for 2019 fantasy football running back value in the City By the Bay (well actually, the city about 45 miles from The City By the Bay). Very rarely has so much fantasy football running back capital been concentrated on one NFL team, and this will be bad for everyone involved in 2019.
Now, calling this bad for all parties doesn’t mean that the Niners are going to be a team bereft of fantasy football value for running backs. Quite the opposite, in fact. In his eleven years as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Shanahan has produced a top-ten running back five times, and a top-thirty back ten times. In fact, he masterminded an offense that produced two top-twenty RBs in the same year in Atlanta. One was Devonta Freeman, and the other was Tevin Coleman. This was one of Coleman’s best years, and you can see why he went back to Shanahan to put some good tape down. Indeed, Shanahan’s scheming puts his running backs in a position to succeed, with his RB1 & RB2 combining to produce an average of 1,752 yards and twelve touchdowns.
The problem with Tevin Coleman in San Francisco is that two-way pie needs to get cut three ways. Coleman, Breida and McKinnon have all produced like top-twenty running backs in the past, and are the best tripartite running back room in the NFL. For fantasy football, however, this produces a jumbled mess.
Let’s say that the 49ers run a running back-based offense and that average Kyle Shanahan production grows by 20%. That would present a huge leap forward, and give the Saints a run for their money as the best running back offense in the NFL. The final product would be 2,102 total yards and 14.4 touchdowns (let’s be generous and call that 15 TDs). Someone will take the lead and have more production than the other two backs, but there is no way to figure out who. Because of this, let’s split that production into perfect thirds, to create an idea of the 50th-percentile production of these backs. That’s 700 yards and five touchdowns apiece. Last year with the Seahawks, Mike Davis had 728 yards and five touchdowns. Do you want to make a bet on a 49ers running back with Mike Davis as a very likely outcome? Me neither.
What about the situation that Coleman left in Atlanta? The forward-thinking Falcons built in their Tevin Coleman replacement in Ito Smith in the draft last year. Ito Smith had limited run last year alongside Tevin Coleman, when he was supposed to be Tevin Coleman. He did not reliably produce, averaging just 33.4 yards per game, and finding the end zone just five times. Their new OC, Dirk Koetter, does not inspire confidence in 2019, unfortunately. Outside of his time with fantasy football monster Maurice Jones-Drew, Dirk Koetter has produced three top-24 running backs (Doug Martin at #4 & Charles Sims at #16 in 2015, and Michael Turner at #21 in 2012). Originally, I liked Ito Smith at his draft price (around RB55), but he will rocket up draft boards with the definite loss of Coleman. He could still represent a value given Freeman’s propensity for injury, but I am not confident he will be a new Tevin Coleman going into 2019 with Koetter at the helm. He’ll likely be a flex play with Freeman around, at best.