Impact Analysis: Shaun Hill, San Francisco 49ers

by Bryce McRae on November 4, 2008 @ 01:00:00 PDT


It seems like ages ago that we saw the San Francisco 49ers' new head coach Mike Singletary booting tight end Vernon Davis off the sideline in the middle of their Week 8 game. Then we were treated to a press conference that was Dennis Green-esque. Finally, reports came out that Singletary had dropped his pants during halftime of the team's game, in an innovative effort to inspire his team.

However, what might have been lost in the shuffle is that the 49ers are set to have a new quarterback under center when they come out of their bye. The team made the switch before halftime in Week 8, bringing in quarterback Shaun Hill to replace quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.

This might not sound like a significant fantasy move - this is Shaun Hill we are talking about after all - but as we've seen, quarterbacks in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system have shown to be great fantasy contributors in the past.

Neither of these quarterbacks has seen the field extensively during their career, yet a few trends have already emerged from the small sample.

Table: Comparison of 49ers' quarterback career numbers

As can be seen in the table above, O'Sullivan has been the stronger threat downfield with his higher yards per attempt, but he is also more prone to interceptions with one pick every 18.8 attempts. Hill is by far the more accurate passer, which would suggest his suitability for a short-to-intermediate passing game.

What was the problem with J.T.?

So, why exactly did the 49ers make a change at quarterback? O'Sullivan enjoyed an impressive start to the season; he was ranked 10th in the league with 1,092 passing yards and tied for eighth with seven touchdowns after five weeks. Considering the journeyman quarterback had thrown for just 148 yards and one touchdown since entering the league, it appeared Martz's system was again working its magic.

However, turnovers began to pile up for O'Sullivan. From Week 4 through Week 7, he threw at least two interceptions in each game, totaling nine over that period. Perhaps even more frustrating than the interceptions, he fumbled the ball six times in that stretch. On the season, he has thrown 11 interceptions and fumbled 11 times (six lost). He has also been sacked 32 times.

What does Hill bring to the table?

Hill gives the team a different look at quarterback; he is an accurate passer that does a good job protecting the ball. The seven-year veteran has appeared in just five games during his career - four of which have come with the 49ers over the last two years - but he has looked competent during his appearances. Replacing O'Sullivan in Week 8, Hill went 15 of 23 passing for 173 yards and one touchdown.

The biggest question is how Hill fits in Martz's offense? The 49ers system utilizes a lot of deep, seven-step drops, which might not be suited for Hill's style. He appears to be more suited to the midrange game where he can take advantage of his accurate arm.

Singletary has hinted that he wants to shift toward a more run-first offense, which would be predicated on a smashmouth style (which makes sense as he played for the vaunted Chicago Bears defense of the mid-80s that epitomized physical play). The team also wants to involve their tight ends more in blocking, which could be a sign they are shifting to a more conservative approach. Again, this works with the Hill switch, as he is better at protecting the ball.

Still, as the saying goes, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks," so as long as Martz is in town, you should expect to see plenty of passing. This should allow Hill to remain at least a viable fantasy option.

Fantasy football outlook

With Martz on the coaching staff, anything can be expected from the quarterback position. With a week off to prepare and a solid matchup in Week 10, Hill could easily come out with a decent effort against the Arizona Cardinals. The extra week should be beneficial to Hill as Martz's offense is notoriously complex.

Hill should be acquired as a backup in most regular leagues, though he might only be worth playing when he has an outstanding matchup. If you are desperate at the position or are looking to build some depth for a playoff run, he is an intriguing option.

Regarding O'Sullivan, he should be released in all fantasy leagues. He hasn't been a serviceable fantasy quarterback in his last three games, and without a starting spot, he should be consigned to the waiver wire.

As for the rest of the offense, it is hard to see running back Frank Gore's value increasing; he was already being leaned on heavily and that shouldn't change with Hill at quarterback. The tight ends don't have any value; they rarely have a strong role in Martz's offense, and that doesn't appear to be changing with the team wanting to increase their use as blockers.

No wide receiver has stepped up in recent weeks with no one receiving more than six targets in Week 8 while five received at least two. Wideout Isaac Bruce is the best of the group, but he's little more than a shaky No. 3 that can start in the right matchup. Rookie receiver Josh Morgan has some potential and opened eyes with his five-catch, 86-yard and one-touchdown performance in Week 7, but he followed that up by being shut out in Week 8. He's nothing but a flier at this point.

If you're looking for a possible wild card, Hill might develop something with wideout Bryant Johnson (6-foot-3, 211 pounds), who is the biggest of the team's receivers. We've already noted Hill's preference in working underneath coverage, which speaks favorably to larger receivers that can use their body to shield the ball from defenders as well as take a pounding across the middle of the field. This is purely speculative at this point, but those in deep leagues should at least file it away.

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About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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