49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Kyle Juszczyk and a contract year

Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The 49ers made Kyle Juszczyk the highest-paid fullback in the league back in 2017, and his 2020 campaign carries a lot of weight for a contract year.

Did the San Francisco 49ers overspend on fullback Kyle Juszczyk when they inked him to a four-year, $21 million free-agent contract back in 2017?


Is he vitally important to head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense?


Two things can equally be true here. The Niners spent a lot of money on what many consider to be an antiquated position, far outpacing anyone close to that kind of cash at the position. But Juszczyk makes a huge difference for what Shanahan wants to do when his team has the ball.

This was evidenced when Juszczyk missed four games last season with injury:

Granted, there were many other factors and X-factors in that mix. Tight end George Kittle missed time. So did starting tackles Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey.

But Juszczyk’s absence was visibly notable for San Francisco’s offense, and the four-time Pro Bowler needs to be on the field in order for Shanahan to get his ground game working as best as it can.

From a statistical vantage point, Juszczyk continued with his regular pass-catching ways as a viable option. Rarely offering much by the way of a 1- or 2-yard run in short-yardage situations, Juszczyk’s service as a pass catcher can’t be denied:

Kyle Juszczyk Receiving Table
4 yr4 yrBAL6432133977697.9535401.512.072.9%5.87943
3 yr3 yrSFO42361078387810.6339562.020.977.6%8.29464

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/13/2020.

But stats only tell part of the story. Juszczyk’s efforts as a lead blocker in the run game can’t be understated, and Pro Football Focus awarded him with a 74.7 grade in this particular category. When Juszczyk was out, the Niners attempted to insert backup tight end Ross Dwelley into Juszczyk’s stead.

Dwelley’s run-blocking PFF grade was 53.5 — a notable difference.

Simply put, the 49ers are better with Juszczyk in the lineup. As long as he’s healthy, he’s a huge boost to the offense.

Entering a contract year, however, there are a lot of factors working their way into the 29-year-old veteran’s future.

Why Kyle Juszczyk improves with 49ers in 2020

It’s going to be hard speculating any notable improvement for Juszczyk, at least in the statistical category. He regularly appears pegged for between 300 to 400 receiving yards in any given season, as long as he’s healthy, usually picking up a key catch or two per game in mismatch situations.

That’s where Shanahan likes to use him, at least in the passing game. And considering his efforts as a lead blocker, there’s little reason to suggest age will play a factor in any regression.

Juszczyk mustered a career-high 31 rush yards back in 2017, so one shouldn’t expect him to be a short-yardage guy at any point.

But if he winds up being used in this fashion, perhaps in goal-line situations, that would be a major plus.

Why Kyle Juszczyk regresses with 49ers in 2020

Shanahan isn’t likely to judge Juszczyk too much by his efforts in the receiving game, although a drop in the fullback’s production here could actually work to San Francisco’s benefit. More on that in a second.

What the big concern would be is whether or not Juszczyk winds up missing blocks and/or being overwhelmed by an increasingly more-versatile and athletic corps of young NFL linebackers who are faster and more dynamic to handle more pass-coverage duties.

This could actually work in Juszczyk’s favor, but it’ll be interesting to see matchups between players like Juszczyk and, let’s say, the Arizona Cardinals rookie, Isaiah Simmons.

How Juszczyk matches up against players like Simmons could hint the trajectory of the former moving forward.

Projected role for 49ers in 2020, future beyond this season

There’s little questioning what Shanahan wants Juszczyk to be for his offense this season. It’s the same rule Juszczyk has held since joining the fray back in 2017.

The question gets a bit muddier beyond this year, as Juszczyk is entering the final season of his current contract. San Francisco is no longer wading in cap space and has to consider vital extensions for players like Kittle and McGlinchey in the not-so-distant future. It’s anyone’s guess whether or not that cuts in to the cash the Niners will have to re-sign their veteran fullback.

Perhaps that helps explain why the 49ers inked former Fresno State fullback Josh Hokit shortly after the 2020 NFL Draft.

Hokit is a bit smaller than Juszczyk, but the former offers a bit more in the short-yardage run game than the latter. If Hokit winds up flashing some serious lead-blocking abilities in training camp and the preseason this year, it’s not out of the question to suggest the team has found a cheaper replacement over the veteran.

Next. 5 players who'll struggle in 49ers training camp this year. dark

Fortunately, that’s a problem to be discussed for another time. Meanwhile, the Niners hope to get the same kind of service from their perennial Pro Bowler for the entirety of 2020.