Will Jerick McKinnon Be a Fantasy Football Stud in San Francisco?

Following a good 2017 season, Jerick McKinnon is headed to San Francisco. Is he primed for an even bigger campaign in 2018?

Jerick McKinnon believers please stand up.

The time has finally come -- or has it?

In the whirlwind of 2018 NFL free agency, McKinnon signed a four-year, $30-million contract with the San Francisco 49ers.

Following Dalvin Cook's season ending ACL tear, McKinnon earned a larger workload for the Minnesota Vikings last season. He turned this opportunity to a career-best 570 rushing yards, 421 receiving yards, 5 touchdowns, and 51 receptions. However, despite his best season to date, a split backfield with Latavius Murray limited McKinnon's upside in 2017 as Murray finished with 842 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns while serving as the early-down (and goal-line) back.

But workload may not be an issue for McKinnon this upcoming season. With Carlos Hyde leaving for the Cleveland Browns, McKinnon looks to be the early favorite to lead the 49ers' backfield in 2018.

Fit in San Francisco

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan has developed a reputation as a running back whisperer -- especially in the passing game -- after serving as an offensive coordinator for the better part of 10 years.

Last season, Shanahan's offense allowed Hyde and rookie Matt Breida to record 59 and 21 receptions, respectively. Hyde's 59 receptions dwarfed his previous career high of 27.

In 2015 and 2016, when Shanahan was running the offense for the Atlanta Falcons, Devonta Freeman recorded reception totals of 73 and 54 despite sharing a backfield with Tevin Coleman, who had 31 receptions himself in 2016.

This trend dates back all the way to Shanahan's time as the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009, when Steve Slaton recorded reception totals of 44 and 50.

In short, Shanahan has given his backfield plenty of chances to rack up receptions, something which should suit McKinnon's skillset.

Advanced Statistics

According to our in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary, McKinnon might not be as much of an upgrade as he appears, and it's not because Hyde was superb last year.

In terms of efficiency in 2017, Hyde disappointed as the lead dog in Shanahan's offense. He recorded a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.07 (NFL average was -0.04) and a Rushing Success Rate (percentage of rushes contributing to a positive NEP) of 35.83%. McKinnon also disappointed, per our numbers, posting a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.16 and Rushing Success Rate of 39.07%. Among the 47 backs to see at least 100 attempts, McKinnon ranked 45th in Rushing NEP per carry.

Per NEP, the best back in San Fran right now is the aforementioned Breida, who bested each of those two running backs with a Rushing NEP of 0.05 and a Success Rate of 43.81%. While Brieda's sample size of 101 carries isn't huge, it's not insignificant, either.

As a receiver, though, McKinnon was a monster, and that may be why the Niners wanted him. McKinnon recorded a Reception NEP per target of 0.33 -- far above Hyde's mark of 0.19 -- and he set a career-best mark in yards per catch (8.6).

However, Breida again outperformed both McKinnon and Hyde, recording a 0.38 Reception NEP per target on 21 receptions and 36 targets (again, not a huge sample size, but still pretty impressive). Breida was credited with five dropped passes, tied for the second-most among running backs behind only -- you guessed it -- Hyde (6).

Bottom Line

While Breida, per our numbers, outperformed Hyde and McKinnon last year as a rookie, the 49ers obviously weren't sold on his ability to be a workhorse since they just gave $15.7 million guaranteed to McKinnon.

Time will tell how this backfield shakes out, but McKinnon and Breida may both end up seeing meaningful volume. Breida certainly flashed in his opportunities last year, and McKinnon has displayed big-play ability as a pass-game weapon.

With so few workhorse backs around the league, we're used to monitoring training camp chatter and preseason snaps to try to get a feel for potential regular-season usage, and we'll likely have to do that with the 49ers' backfield this summer.

With Jimmy Garoppolo under center and a proven offensive mind calling the plays in Shanahan, the 49ers should be a much-improved attack in 2018. Given that and the guaranteed money he just got, McKinnon will likely get plenty of fantasy love this offseason, but it may be best to temper our expectations.