Before I get this article started, I wanted to give a quick shoutout to @DHH_Tyler and his entire staff for being so welcoming. It’s been over a year since I’ve written anything fantasy football related but it’s exciting to knock off the rust and get on that grind once again. With rookie fever spreading like wildfire, it’s also the time for your roster cuts. The goal of the To Cut, Or Not To Cut is to give you some recommendations for players who might be on your roster bubble when it comes time for trimming down before your rookie draft. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
No fists were banged on the table when the San Francisco 49ers signed Matt Breida as an undrafted free agent but he clawed his way to being the RB2 for the team last year. Most caught wind of Breida during rookie mini-camp when rumors started to spread of the 49ers cutting RB Carlos Hyde at the same time the team couldn’t stop glowing about Breida’s performance in camp. He quickly went from training camp darling to a legit handcuff behind Hyde who historically hadn’t had a great track record when it came to health. Breida’s season wasn’t amazing by any means, but his usage was encouraging, especially when golden boy Jimmy Garoppolo took over under center. While Breida fell short of his preseason hype last season, there is a lot to like about the Georgia Southern product. Before he becomes one of your roster cuts, find out why I think there’s a chance he could have a Tevin Coleman-like year next year if everything falls perfectly into place.
Breida’s career began in the Sun Belt conference at Georgia Southern, the alma mater of not only current free agent running back Jerick McKinnon but also kicker Younghoe Koo (remember when everyone named their fantasy teams after him for like 2 weeks?). Breida broke out his sophomore year, leading the Sun Belt in rushing with 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns, adding 97 yards and a receiving touchdown through the air. Rushing again for 17 touchdowns his junior year, he ran for 1,609 yards on his way to being named First-Team All-Sun Belt for the second year in a row. During those two years, he led the nation with 8.7 and 7.9 yards per carry. His senior season was an anomaly as it fell way short of expectations, rushing for 649 yards with 3 touchdowns and touting a meager 3.4 yards per carry. His surprising senior season could be attributed to a coaching change that including going to an option offense more so than a pro-style offense. Now if you’re thinking, “Cool man, but the Sun Belt conference doesn't impress me much,” wait until you hear what he did at his pro day workout.
After his disappointing senior year, no invite to the combine only allowed him to display his talents to scouts during his pro day where his SPARQ scores flew off the page. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash, finished in the 100th percentile in his burst score at 138.4, and had 23 reps on the bench press. He led all running backs in 2017 with his SPARQ scores, besting the likes of Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffery, and Joe Mixon. The only running back to best Breida’s SPARQ scores in this year’s draft? Saquan freaking Barkley. While his numbers were extremely impressive, his number was still not called through 7 rounds of the NFL draft due to his weight (only 183lbs at the time), small school status, and disappointing senior year. It’s been reported that 17 teams contacted him after the draft and the 49ers were one of them. According to 49ers beat writer Kevin Jones, they spent more time on the phone with Breida than any other draft pick and did, in fact, mention a two-back system like Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman during the conversation. He initially lived up to the 49ers high expectations, starting way early in May.
From day one, reporters and 49er staff couldn’t rave enough about Breida. Fourth-round draft pick Joe Williams became an afterthought as Breida became the favorite as the number 2 running back for the 49ers. The hype continued to climb and by the time Week 3 came around, his name was being thrown around redraft leagues as a must-own handcuff. However, those hopes never came to fruition as Hyde miraculously stayed healthy for all 16 games and through 11 weeks of the season, Breida was nothing more than a safety valve for QBs Hoyer the Destroyer and C.J. Beathard. Things started to change with Garoppolo and we began to see a Freeman/Coleman split. In his 5 games with his new QB, Breida had double-digit carries in 4 of them, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Now again, his numbers didn’t make anyone look twice, but the fact that the coaching staff trusted him with those carries are encouraging because if Hyde walks in free agency (which many believe he will because his power running style doesn't fit the scheme of Kyle Shanahan’s offense and the fact that the 49ers didn’t tag him), there’s suddenly 240 rushing attempts and 88 targets up for grabs. Now it’s a guarantee the 49ers will add someone to the position, more so through the draft than free agency, but Tevin Coleman was still a fantasy productive player given his role as a complimentary player.
In 2016, with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator, Coleman accumulated almost 1,000 total yards, caught 31 passes and had 11 total TDs in 13 games. Those numbers were good enough for RB17 on the year. Yes, Coleman’s numbers were inflated by the touchdowns but this 49er offense is turning around on the back of Jimmy G and Breida could be the beneficiary. In the 49ers’ games with Garoppolo as the quarterback, they scored at least 25 points including 37 points on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ vaunted defense. Let’s say that Breida only gets about a third of Hyde’s touches, that’s still upwards of 180 rushing attempts and roughly 40 catches. In a perfect world for Breida, the 49ers would bring in a complementary back to pair with him and relatively split Hyde’s touches between the two. However, judging by the beer belly I’ve never seemed to get rid of since college, it’s clear we don’t live in a perfect world. There’s a decent amount that could go south for Breida and make us forget about him almost as fast as we forgot about Yunghoe Koo.
Like many other players you can find at the end of your dynasty roster, Breida has some concerns to overcome to make us believe he can become consistently fantasy relevant. When evaluating players, it’s obviously important to keep in mind draft capital. There’s a reason Breida was passed by 32 NFL teams 7 times. Could he have been the success of a small school scheme those two years? It’s possible.
Now let’s look more in depth at his rookie campaign. Most times when a coach is giving a player touches it’s noteworthy but different situations hold different weight. While it means something that Breida was given such high carry counts, looking a little deeper, some of his carries might not have meant as much as the numbers might suggest. In Week 15 against the Tennessee Titans, a game which stayed competitive throughout, Shanahan heavily leaned on Hyde, giving Breida only 5 carries that game. His two biggest games came in Week 16 in a blowout against the Jaguars and Week 17 against the Los Angeles Rams’ backups. It’s also important to note that Breida’s receiving numbers seemed to disappear once Garoppolo took over. From Weeks 2-9 he averaged 3.6 targets a game but during the last 5 games of the season, he got just four total looks. Could they have just been using him out of necessity? That’s a possibility.
We described the perfect scenario for Breida, now let’s look at the worst. There’s a chance that Breida’s role doesn’t change at all. Let’s say, Joe Williams, whom the 49ers had high hopes for, recovers and starts to look good in training camp. Theoretically, let’s say they give Williams a third of Hyde’s workload. Then, the team uses either their 2nd round or one of their 3rd round picks to draft more of a workhorse type of running back. The team gives their new rookie the other two-thirds of Hyde’s workload. Suddenly Brieda is right back where he started and I spend the rest of my life wondering what I could have done that one Wednesday night I used to write over 1,000 words about a small running back out of Georgia Southern. Please don’t put that guilt on me, Matt.
Keep, Sell, Buy or Cut?
Despite the concerns, Breida is still a keep and a buy if I can get him for a 3rd round pick (which seems to be the going rate according to #dynastytrades). Could he turn out to be an average to below average running back? Absolutely but if the 49ers backfield doesn’t turn into an ugly RBBC, he’s going to get touches on what should be a tremendously improved offense. If everything falls into place for him next year, his ceiling is a low-end RB2 which is pretty nice value for someone you likely scooped off your waivers. Shanahan's proven to be one of the brightest minds in the NFL and has a track record of extremely successful offenses. Jimmy G already looks like an above average quarterback, albeit a small sample size. Matt Barrows, another beat writer for the 49ers, mentioned just last week on a radio spot how impressed the team has been with Breida since day one. Breida’s value is in limbo until we find out who the 49ers add in the backfield but if they only add a complementary back to Breida and Williams, stashing him on the end of your bench could get you out of a pickle at RB.