Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on 2017 San Francisco 49ers players rolls forward with a look at Pro Bowl fullback Kyle Juszczyk and his fit with the offense.
A four-year, $21 million contract for a fullback is an awful lot, but the San Francisco 49ers have to feel pretty good about landing Kyle Juszczyk in free agency this offseason.
Juszczyk is more than just a lead blocker.
The four-year veteran is coming off a 2016 Pro Bowl campaign in which he had 37 receptions for 266 yards. The year before, Juszczyk posted 321 yards and four receiving touchdowns:
Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense requires the use of a fullback. But Juszczyk fills a much bigger role.
One should consider the 26 year old almost like an H-back — a unique receiving weapon capable of lining up in more positions than just in front of the running back.
We should expect Juszczyk to offer the 49ers offense something different than what’s been seen in recent years.
But let’s dive a little deeper to see what might be on the table for 2017.
Why He’ll Improve
Statistically, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see Juszczyk to post even more receiving yards this season. The Niners lack true No. 1 wide receivers on offense, and their tight end crop is going through a number of changes.
With quarterback Brian Hoyer under center, expect the Niners to run a number of short- and intermediate-passing plays involving running backs.
Juszczyk fits into the picture nicely. Especially if plays like this are in the mix:
Simply put, Juszczyk is a versatile weapon — capable of being a major contributor for a 49ers offense that needs playmakers.
Why He’ll Regress
Juszczyk is just entering the prime of his career, so it’s difficult to find too many reasons why the young veteran would have any signs of regression.
There is a chance he’ll take some time to adjust to Shanahan’s system, which is complex. Assuming Juszczyk has a variety of roles, it’s understandable he might not totally be ready for a major-impact role right away.
And with the lack of proven receiving weapons, teams will likely stack a linebacker and safety on Juszczyk, while forcing someone else on the 49ers to make a play.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since Juszczyk will be positively impacting the offense. And even if he’s covered, Juszczyk creates mismatches with his 6-foot-2, 248-pound frame.
Perhaps the only reason we’d see some negatives this season is if he isn’t living up to his hefty contract early on.
What to Expect in 2017
The 49ers used to have a versatile fullback in Bruce Miller before his off-the-field issues resulted in a release.
Miller was a legitimate receiving weapon, which is what Juszcyk will look to be this upcoming season.
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It wouldn’t be a shock to see the fullback put up equivalent to what was seen in 2015 — roughly between 300 and 400 yards receiving and, possibly, a number of creative ground carries as well.
Juszczyk will line up as a lead blocker, sure, but will also wind up being featured at the end of the line as a tight end of sorts. This is especially important, since the Niners’ likely starting TE is going to be Logan Paulsen.
If anything, San Francisco has a unique player capable of providing mismatches on offense.
And that’s something the Niners have lacked for a while.