Old Faces, New Places: RB Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers

Old Faces, New Places: RB Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers

Player Analysis

Old Faces, New Places: RB Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers

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(Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

When a player goes from a clearly defined role into a situation with chaos, such as entering a potentially three-pronged backfield, the best place to start is identifying what we do know for sure about the player in question.

Said player, in this case, is former Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman joining the San Francisco 49ers. Before diving into the all-important touch split forecast, what do we know for sure about Coleman?

  • Career committee guy, which means he’s 1) used to share and 2) not used to being a workhorse 3) has something in the tank
  • Knows Kyle Shanahan’s system in and out
  • In the prime of his career at age 26
  • Versatile and can play three downs
  • Nose for the end zone relative to his touch volume
  • Consistently produces above-average statistics per touch

Focusing on the first point, Coleman has been asked to carry the load for weeks in a row but never over the entire duration of a season. He had 20 touches once in a game last year, and Coleman didn’t top 16 carries in a single game. He handled the ball 21 times in back-to-back games in 2017 and was extremely productive on his 19 touches in the follow-up week.

Coleman is the closest thing the Niners have to a full-time back. With Jerick McKinnon — also a career complementary piece — coming off of a torn anterior cruciate ligament that cost him the entire 2018 season, and Matt Breida suggesting last year that he, too, isn’t overly durable after an ankle sprain was aggravated about, oh, 60 times. Raheem Mostert flashed in a couple of games. He’s one of the team’s most valuable special teams players, which, per NBC Sports’ Matt Maiocco, means he is almost a lock to be one of the three active backs in 2019.

Regardless of the exact touch split or utilization share percentage, San Fran will ask its backs to rotate and be productive in limited spurts. That has been a hallmark of Shanahan’s offenses. Knowing the specifics of the zone-blocking system and having a feeling for the tempo of this specific line is a big help, and only Mostert and Breida can claim that at present time. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year and definitely has the requisite talent to be on an NFL roster.

McKinnon should be ready for training camp, even if the team babies him. There’s a decent chance he could be limited early in the regular season in favor of Breida seeing his handles. It would be unlikely for McKinnon to be cast aside or relegated to being the fourth back, however. He probably is being paid too much money for this to happen. At any rate, the former Minnesota Viking was “just a guy” before the injury, and how much will he trust his reconstructed knee early on? Averaging fewer than 4.0 yards per tote in the two seasons prior to joining San Fran, McKinnon needs everything around him to be optimal to consistently create plays.

Tevin Coleman – career statistics (2015-18)

Year
Team
G
GS
Att
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
Lng
TD
FUM
2015
Atlanta Falcons
12
3
87
392
4.5
46
1
2
14
7
10
0
3
2016
Atlanta Falcons
13
0
118
520
4.4
55T
8
31
421
13.6
49
3
1
2017
Atlanta Falcons
15
3
156
628
4
52
5
27
299
11.1
39
3
1
2018
Atlanta Falcons
16
14
167
800
4.8
65
4
32
276
8.6
39T
5
2

Little in that table suggests he is capable of stealing the show and becoming a full-time back, or even own the vast majority of the work (70 percent or more). It’s still likely a 60-40 or 50-50 situation. Looking at the two years Shanahan coached Coleman in Atlanta, the situation was notably different, because Devonta Freeman was healthy and playing well. Coleman was also a rookie for one of those seasons. The breakdowns were 29 percent of the hand-offs, 21 percent of the receptions, and 28 percent of the overall touches went to Coleman. Apply that same breakdown to just 2016, when Coleman had become entrenched in the offense: 34 percent of hand-offs, 36 percent of receptions, and 35 percent of the overall touches went his way.

Much is different in San Francisco, though, since the quarterback is coming back from major injury and has yet to establish himself the way Matt Ryan had at that point. The receiving corps doesn’t have a Julio Jones, and adding all of the Niners wideouts together arguably isn’t even a Julio Jones. Also, no Freeman-type.

It’s crazy to expect a guy whose four-year career has been him seeing basically one-third of his team’s running back touches to double his in involvement without repercussions. Shanahan loves to share the work, and with two other injury-risk backs as versatile as Coleman available, it really begs the question of why the coach would want to run the risk of pounding into the turf. One of those “less is more” scenarios.

Fantasy football takeaway

We know the offensive line is one of the best up-and-coming units in football, and let us presume Jimmy Garoppolo is what we think he can be on the field … we’re talking roughly 420 total rushing attempts for the backfield based on what we’ve seen from Shanahan over the past four seasons.

Let’s give Coleman 50 percent of those carries and get him to 210 handles at 4.5 yards per carry. He has scored a touchdown every 29 attempts in his career. We’re at 945 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Toss in his averages over the last three years for receiving work to produce a reasonable line of 30-310-3 … we’re at 216 fantasy points in PPR, which ranks 14th based on last year’s scoring. Not bad. That would be worth his sixth-round ADP.

What if it is indeed a three-way attack, and we go evenly with those figures? Now we down to about 172 fantasy points, and he would have been RB25 in 2018. Think of this exercise as a way to view his range of production. Sure, anything can happen in a freakish sense, but the odds of it happening either direction are minuscule. Coleman has been too consistent in his career to expect a drastic change, plus or minus. The best thing gamers could hope for is he gets roughly 50-60 percent of the work and San Fran runs the ball north of 500 times. The defense probably isn’t strong enough to allow for it, though.

With that 6:03 placement in PPR drafts, Coleman is a sound RB3. His non-PPR ADP is one pick earlier, which is perfectly reflective of his attributes in relation to both systems.

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