At the conclusion of the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft, most of the San Francisco 49ers brass were celebrating. Kyle Shanahan, presiding over his first draft as a head coach, was not. Described as having a look on his face reminiscent of John Nash from A Beautiful Mind, Shanahan was staring at the big board. After much thought, Shanahan declared that running back Joe Williams should be the 49ers next selection. Williams was not even on the 49ers big board. This isn’t significant because Williams will or will not have a successful career. This is significant because Shanahan has thought deeply on how he wants the 49ers offense to look, and has a plan for which players he wishes to implement it with.
Kyle Shanahan’s Handpicked Offensive Personnel for the San Francisco 49ers
It is apparent that the 2017 49ers run game will not mirror the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, for whom Shanahan served as offensive coordinator. The Falcons rode the blazing speed and pass catching abilities of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to the Super Bowl. The 49ers do not currently posses a running back with the exact skill set of Freeman or Coleman. Carlos Hyde is a complete back when healthy, but is best suited for physical runs between the tackles. Williams possesses top notch speed, but never showed an ability to factor into the passing game while at Utah. Now, Shanahan will have the task of optimizing the talents of these two players. He has a new vision for how he wants his backfield to look.
Perhaps the most reassuring aspect of the new 49ers running game is Shanahan’s track record. Like his father Mike Shanahan before him, he has a knack for getting the most out of his running backs. Mike was responsible for drafting and developing running backs such as Clinton Portis and Terrell Davis. Kyle has had a hand in the success of Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, and Freeman. Given his history, Shanahan will find a way to set up his running backs for success.
While Shanahan may have a new ground attack, his style of passing offense appears to be unchanged. Typical Shanahan offenses have a do-it-all number one receiver. The remaining receivers on the roster posses high end speed. They are capable of taking the top off the defense. In Atlanta, Shanahan accomplished this by pairing Julio Jones and Taylor Gabriel. He has had this type of pairing in every stop as offensive coordinator. Shanahan was able to acquire such a pairing for the 49ers via free agency.
On the first day of free agency, the 49ers signed Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin. Garçon is on the older side, but gives the 49ers a true number one receiver. He also provides a veteran leader who’s familiar with Shanahan’s offense from his days in Washington. Goodwin has Olympic level speed. He’s had his issues with injuries, but when healthy, his skill set on the field make him the perfect complement to Garçon. Shanahan is hoping that in mimicking the receiver pairing, he will mirror the results that lead Atlanta to the number one offensive attack in terms of DVOA.
All save one of the quarterbacks that Kyle Shanahan has coached fit a very particular mold. Besides Robert Griffin III, all of them were primarily pocket passers. Matt Schaub, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Ryan all had great success on Shanahan-led teams. They mastered the offense by learning to make the right read, and distributing the ball to multiple weapons. By forcing them to rely on the play call and the personnel, it is almost as though Shanahan wishes to limit the quarterback. This is why Brian Hoyer will have moderate success. Shanahan’s offense can work with a limited quarterback.
Recent 49er offensive schemes were predicated on Colin Kaepernick beating the other team with his legs. It is safe to say this style of game plan will be jettisoned. Hoyer will be tasked with learning the offense, making the right read, and getting the ball into the hands of his play-makers. Lucky for Hoyer, he has experience in Shanahan’s system from when he played in Cleveland. Hoyer is no Matt Ryan, so he probably won’t be bringing home any hardware. At the very least, Hoyer should be competent enough to bridge the gap to the quarterback of the future, whomever that may be.
The 2016 49ers had trouble on both sides of the ball. With well thought out changes, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the 2017 49ers be more efficient on offense. Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator for many years. By now, he has a firm grasp in what he wants from his players on offense. Signing players like Hoyer and Garçon show that he is fully committed to his strategies. He has a plan. He was described as looking like a genius when he is thinking about his team. The time is now for Shanahan to prove he actually is a genius.