There’s no better remedy for a team that finished dead last in total yards and points scored than hiring a coach with a tried and true offensive system. That was the plan when the San Francisco 49ers chose HC Chip Kelly to take the reigns of their floundering football team, and they hope his uptempo style can help resurrect the franchise.
While Kelly’s system has it’s proponents and detractors, you can’t argue that the Philadelphia Eagles were a prolific offense for most of his tenure. Kelly got the best out of many of his players, as key contributors enjoyed career seasons under him. Which 49ers might see similar results? Here’s a look at five players who could benefit most from having Kelly on board, and what sort of production they might be able to give the team.
5. WR Torrey Smith
One the surface, it would appear that Smith’s first year in San Francisco was a bust. He managed only 33 catches for 663 yards and four scores, all of which are (or matched) career lows. However, if you look deeper, Smith actually made the most of his limited opportunities. Somehow, Smith was only targeted 62 times in 2015, which is a little less than four per game. He still managed a career high 20.1 yards per reception, and scored three touchdowns of 71 yards or more.
Targets shouldn’t be an issue for Smith under Kelly, as he’ll undoubtedly see a significant increase in looks. From 2013-2015, the leading receiver for the Eagles averaged 132 targets per season. Because there isn’t much in the way of proven options behind Smith, it’s easy to see him getting the bulk of the action. The speedy wide out should be able set a new personal high water mark for catches in season, a number that currently stands at 65.
4. WR Bruce Ellington
Even though he’s only caught 19 passes in the NFL, you could argue that Ellington has the most to gain from Kelly. Criminally underused in 2015, Ellington has the speed and elusiveness to give defenses matchup issues all over the field.
While Kelly generally prefers larger receivers, he admitted that the 5’9 Ellington is intriguing to him, and he’s looking forward to seeing what the versatile weapon can do.
“When you look at just the short time that I’ve seen just film of him you’re like, ‘Wow – that kid can do some interesting things,’ ” Kelly said at the NFL scouting combine. “Then it’s our job to figure out how we can use that to help us win games.”
3. TE Vance McDonald
With QB Colin Kaepernick under center, McDonald looked like a bust. Over his first 30 games in the league, the former second round draft pick was targeted 38 times and came down with 17 catches (45 percent) for 181 yards. He had more than one reception in a game only once during that span. Things changed when QB Blaine Gabbert took over however, as McDonald started to show some potential. In seven games with Gabbert, McDonald was targeted 37 times with 23 receptions (62 percent), 294 yards and the only three touchdowns of his career.
If McDonald continues to build on the success he had late last season, he could easily thrive with Kelly calling the plays. Kelly employed TE Zach Ertz while in Philadelphia, and the pass catching tight end saw his targets (57, 89, 112), catches (36, 58, 75), and yards (469, 702, 853) increase each season. Given the rapport he’s shown with Gabbert, there’s no reason McDonald can’t continue to ascend as well.
2. QB Blaine Gabbert
Personally, I not only think that Gabbert has the upper hand in the quarterback competition against Kaepernick, but also believe he will start and put together a solid campaign. Gabbert showed promise in what was a poorly coached offense in 2015, and has the athleticism and football smarts to be more than effective with Kelly.
Kelly has a magic touch when it comes to passers, and the proof is in the statistics. QB Nick Foles was dreadful during his 2015 season with the St. Louis Rams, but put up staggering numbers with Chip in the years prior. In 18 starts under Kelly, Foles went 14-4 and threw 40 touchdown passes to 12 interceptions. He also had a completion rate of 63 percent. In his one year with the Rams, Foles limped to a 4-7 record and was picked off 10 times while only finding the endzone on seven occasions. His completion percentage dipped to 56 percent.
Even QB Mark Sanchez, who had become a punchline with the New York Jets, experienced a career revival with Kelly. Sanchez had a 55 percent completion rate in New York and threw more picks than touchdowns. In Philly, his completion rate jumped to 64 percent and he threw 18 scores to 15 interceptions.
Gabbert is poised to set personal bests in just about every statistical category, and could be one of the surprise stories of 2016.
1. RB Carlos Hyde
With an improved offensive line and really no one behind him to challenge his spot atop the depth chart, no Niner’s player has as much to gain from Kelly as Hyde. As the lead back, Hyde will be the unquestioned workhorse in the offense, and could find himself among the league leaders in touches.
If you’re looking for a comparison here, think RB LeSean McCoy‘s 2013-2014 seasons. Both years were consistent in terms of attempts, as McCoy carried the ball 314 times in ’13 and 312 in ’14. McCoy was much better in year one, averaging 5.1 yards per attempt and leading the NFL with 1,607 yards on the ground. His production fell the next year as he saw his yards per carry drop to 4.2, but still gained 1,319 yards. His reception total also decreased from 52 to 28 but some of that could have been due to Sproles entering the fold.
That kind of workload will be something Hyde has to show he can handle, as injuries have been a factor for him early on. 300 plus attempts is a big jump for someone who has only 198 carries in parts of his first two seasons, but if he can stay on the field, the skies the limit for the third year back.