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Fantasy Football Primer: 2022 Season Preview

Starting one of the youngest quarterbacks in NFL history with an otherwise loaded roster, the San Francisco 49ers enter 2022 with arguably the widest range of outcomes in the NFL. The same could be said about the 49ers in fantasy leagues, as the new quarterback has exceptional running ability that gives him big time immediate upside. With a Kyle Shanahan backfield, another wide receiver being drafted in the second round and the always sought-after George Kittle, the 49ers provide plenty of fantasy potential.

Trey Lance is the seventh-youngest starting quarterback in NFL history, but he enters 2022 with a ton of valuable time behind the scenes and much healthier (a broken finger quietly compromised his throwing most of his rookie season). Lance is one of the fastest players in the league (and ran for 1,100 yards during his last full year in college) and averaged the most scrambles per dropback in the NFL as a rookie, so he's an immediate top-10 fantasy quarterback with the upside to finish first overall right away. He'll be taking over San Francisco's offense/system that led the NFC in yards per play last season, routinely leads the NFL in yards after the catch and helped Nick Mullens record the second-most passing yards over his first 16 starts in league history.

Elijah Mitchell's fantasy concerns involve his health, a lack of targets and Lance stealing goal-line scores, but he enters 2022 as San Francisco's clear starter (albeit after missing most of the preseason with a hamstring injury). Mitchell totaled 1,100 yards over just 11 games while playing through multiple painful injuries as a rookie last season, and the only running back competition in SF has been for the team's backup role (grab Jeff Wilson Jr. next, with Jordan Mason also a deep fantasy sleeper). More targets would be nice, but Mitchell will benefit from playing for a run-heavy team and a mobile quarterback in Lance who helped all 49ers backs average 5.2 YPC when he was on the field last season. Given his injury history and the fact Shanahan has had a different rushing leader each of the last five years, Mitchell's ADP has been modest and in the middle rounds throughout summer. He's one of the few running backs going in the dreaded "RB dead zone" who may pay off big for fantasy managers.

Deebo Samuel didn't rank top-50 in routes run or top-25 in targets last season, when he also unsustainably turned 59 carries into eight rushing scores. He now has a new quarterback who throws to completely different areas of the field, so he's been a risky second round fantasy pick. Samuel is a YAC beast and should remain integral to the 49ers offense, but there's a real chance Brandon Aiyuk sees more targets in 2022. Aiyuk looks primed to breakout in Year 3, as the team's already preferred goal-line option. Aiyuk also practiced with Lance throughout the summer, producing highlight after highlight in camp. Aiyuk's ADP looks a lot better than Samuel's, and there's a real chance they are flipped in 2023.

Kittle is arguably the best current NFL tight end, but his blocking doesn't help fantasy managers, and his lack of red zone work and propensity to suffer nagging injuries put him in tier two (along with Dalton Schultz and Darren Waller) among fantasy tight ends (behind Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts and Travis Kelce). There's some hope for fantasy managers that newcomer Tyler Kroft's blocking ability helps free up more route running for Kittle. While Jauan Jennings is the favorite to open as the 49ers WR3, it's Danny Gray with more long-term fantasy upside, as the fast rookie is well worth your attention in dynasty leagues.

With a re-tooled (and loaded) defensive line, expect the 49ers to record more interceptions in 2022, and a weakened NFC West and favorable schedule will help (San Francisco gets nine home games and another on a neutral site, meaning the 49ers play 23% fewer road games than half the league this season). The 49ers should be drafted as a top-three defense, as the team also gets to face Seattle and Washington during the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs.

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