Tevin Coleman Will Have a Hard Time Carving Out Fantasy Football Value With the 49ers
Tevin Coleman has been the most popular fantasy football handcuff, Zero-RB pick, and sleeper for over a fifth of this century.
Despite the hype, he's never hit the ceiling many had hoped he would. Through four years in the NFL, he's finished as a top-24 PPR back three times, but he's never finished higher than 18th, which he did a year ago as he took the lead role in the backfield for most of 2018 with Devonta Freeman sidelined.
As a free agent this offseason, Coleman signed with the San Francisco 49ers, reuniting with his former offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan. Is San Francisco the home he's been looking for to unlock his true potential, or is Coleman destined to provide another "meh" season in 2019?
How Good Is Coleman?
As numberFire regulars may already know, any running back himself controls a surprisingly small amount of his own production. But looking at Coleman's success with the Atlanta Falcons may still give some insight into the type of talent he is. Coleman will also go from a Kyle Shanahan-influenced offense with a talented quarterback in Atlanta to a Shanahan-coached offense with a talented quarterback in San Fran. If there were ever a free agent whose environment is being held consistent, it would be Coleman.
Coleman was drafted in the third round by the Falcons in 2015, but in his rookie season, Freeman stole the show with more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 14 total scores. And after Freeman's magical breakout in 2015, he continued to be the superior rusher.
In Coleman's four years as a Falcon, he registered a positive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry just once. Freeman did so three times in that same four-year span. His only miss was in 2018, when he carried the ball just 14 times due to injury. Over a large sample, Coleman proved to be a subpar runner while another running back thrived in the same environment. That doesn't look good on Coleman.
Where Coleman made his (free agency) money was primarily in the receiving game. Coleman bested Freeman in Target NEP per target in three of their four years together. Since his 11-target rookie year, Coleman has put up 31, 27 and 32 catches over the following three campaigns. He's been a good weapon in the passing game out of the backfield.
Coleman may not carry the ball well, but the NFL is a passing league. Just look at the top-four passing offenses last year. Hint: They all made conference championships. Coleman adds real-life value where it matters most.
Does He Fit With the 49ers?
As we just said, Coleman's biggest draw is his receiving ability, but San Francisco didn't utilize receiving backs at an extraordinary rate in 2018. Their total running back targets (104) and running back target share (19.5%) were each nearly league-average marks.
In addition to this, the 49ers didn't necessarily have a need for a receiving back heading into this offseason. Matt Breida and Kyle Juszczyk combined for 71 targets for an average of 0.42 Target NEP per target last year. If the 49ers' showed anything last season, it was that depth is important as their backfield was pummeled by injuries, leading to Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert getting decent volume in some games.
Coleman certainly adds to their depth, but it looks like he's going to have a tough time getting a large amount of touches given the Niners' plethora of options.
With Breida making a splash in 2018, Jerick McKinnon returning from an ACL injury, and Coleman joining the team, San Francisco is a completely muddled backfield. However, there's not a guy who you can say with conviction is the team's top back, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that Coleman could show well early and leap to the top of the depth chart, even if it's not likely.
McKinnon is entering his age-27 season and still has fewer than 2,000 career rushing yards to his name. Coleman, 26, already has 2,340 yards. McKinnon also has never eclipsed even 600 rushing yards in a season. Breida was good last year, but he was constantly dealing with injuries, seemingly breaking down in a workhorse role. Mostert -- who the team re-signed to a three-year deal this offseason -- flashed, as well, but he is a 26-year-old with a whopping 41 carries in his career. In short, there's talent in the 49ers' backfield but no elite options.
Given Breida's play last year and the addition of Coleman, McKinnon's days as the Niners' clear lead back are likely done before they ever got started as it appears the Niners are going to share the wealth in the backfield. And it's hard to separate Coleman, McKinnon and Breida. They are all good in the passing game while Breida has been the best runner of the bunch so far.
As it stands now, San Fran's backfield is going to be a tough one to decipher for fantasy, and this will be a position battle to watch over the summer. Unless someone seizes a majority share of the work or there's a clear goal-line back, this is shaping up to be a weekly headache in fantasy.