Niners Live refuses to remain silent and is on the scene again to address an issue that all the faithful has to be thinking about and needs answers to. Back on March 14, 2017, we asked Will Kyle Shanahan un-leash the beast on the NFC WEST? Well, we’re still waiting for that to happen. So now we must ask the question: Is Kyle Juszczyk a.k.a “Juice” Underutilized? Underperforming? Or just plain Overrated?
Before being signed to the 49ers at the beginning of the 2017 season, in his four-year career, Kyle Juszczyk gained 25 yards on the ground on seven carries and one touchdown. Now, in terms of receiving, it’s a different story. How about 97 receptions for 769 yards, 7.9 avg., and five touchdowns? While playing for the Ravens he lined up at halfback, fullback, slot receiver, wide receiver and tight end. He also played on special teams. While in college at Harvard, he played tight end/H-back and finished his collegiate career with 125 catches for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns. His 2015 season was his best statistical season where he led all fullbacks with 41 receptions.
On a Niners Live side, note: (Pro Football Focus) gave his contract a C grade. PFF stated that he should have received a contract worth $13.4 million over four years with $8.7 million in guarantees instead of the four years and $21 million with the $10.5 million guaranteed he received from the 49ers. The reasoning? Maybe it’s because he didn’t play more than 41.7 percent of his team’s offensive snaps.
Stats to know: The year Juice went to the Pro Bowl (2016), he started only 7 games out of 16. Why did we know you would ask that? Juice hasn’t started a full 16 games in his whole NFL career.
Since joining the 49ers’, Juice has started in only five of eight games appeared in this season. He has 20 targets amassing 14 receptions for an underwhelming 112 total yards averaging eight yards a reception and a lone visit to the end zone to go along with 6 rushes for 28 total yards to go along with two key fumbles as of late. As unimpressive as those numbers sound, they are not a far cry from the career production that Juice has managed to squeeze out in his previous four seasons in the league.
Can the Juice find the Juice to perform up to his contract standards and expectations?
What makes matters worse is Juszczyk is ranked as the 12th best fullback in the NFL based on overall grade. Per pro football focus he has a 47.8 overall grade, 77.1 run block, 37.4 pass block, 63.8 run, 46.1 receiving, 194 total snaps, 96 run block snaps, 14 pass block snaps, 6 run snaps and 78 receiving snaps. Juice is towards the bottom of the NFL when it comes to pass protection and he’s already gotten beat and given up several sacks on the season already.
Interesting to note: Patrick DiMarco who was also a free agent in 2017 (from the Atlanta Falcons) was signed by the Buffalo Bills to a four year 8.4 million dollar contract and has been instrumental in leading the bills to having one of the top rushing attacks in the league averaging 117 yards per game while being rated as the 4th best FB in the NFL (prior to their Sunday game vs the Los Angeles Chargers) via Pro Football Focus with an overall grade of 75.7, 76.1 run block, pass block 65.6, run 55.8 and receiving 53.0.
Why fans were expecting more
During the free agent press conference new General Manager John Lynch had this to say about his high-priced addition. “Let’s not think of him as a fullback. He’s an O.W. So if you see O.W., that stands for offensive weapon. We saw an offensive weapon that this guy is thrilled to be able to use in a number of different capacities,” stated Lynch (49ers.com).
Underutilized? Underperforming or Overrated?
Although Juszczyk was selected to the pro bowl in 2016, what seemed to be overlooked by the 49ers coaching staff was the fact that in those previous four seasons Juszczyk as aforementioned has never played in a full season and has had durability concerns throughout the course of his career. This season hasn’t been any different as he continues to be plagued by injuries . In his career, he was never asked to carry the load that the 49ers had in mind for him when they awarded him with the highest paid contract for a fullback in NFL history.
GM John Lynch on making Kyle Juszczyk NFL’s highest-paid FB: “He’s worth it to us.” #49ers
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) March 10, 2017
Did Kyle Shanahan set unrealistic expectations for Juice when he envisioned him having a major role in his offense? We’ll continue to watch closely as the rest of the 2017 season reveals itself.
Please join us again soon on Niners Live, the home of the faithful fan and analyst from an objective/analytical lens, of course.
All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Irvin Johnson Staff Writer at Niners Live. Co-Author, Content Creator, Editor Sequoia Sims.