With the addition of running back Jerick McKinnon, the San Francisco 49ers paired head coach Kyle Shanahan with a back eerily similar to RB Devonta Freeman. Shanahan turned Freeman into a fantasy stud during their time together with the Atlanta Falcons – can he do the same with McKinnon in 2018?
And this only serves to increase McKinnon’s fantasy football value in 2018.
McKinnon was given a huge vote of confidence by 49ers general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, who fought hard to sign the running back, offering McKinnon a four-year contract worth up to $30 million:
Ok I have full details, for McKinnon, $2M sign bonus, $250K per game roster bonuses, $50K workout bonuses, 2018 base is GTD at signing, 2019 base GTD for injury, full on April 1, 2019, $2.6M of 2020 base GTD for injury, fully on April 1, 2020, $14.3M total GTD money.
— Jason Hurley (@Jay_AB81) March 14, 2018
While some were initially skeptical of the move, many have eventually warmed to the signing, due to the fact that McKinnon appears to be a perfect match for Shanahan’s offense, which relies heavily on receptions out of the backfield.
Immediately after the signing, I reviewed McKinnon’s recent game film, and wrote an article highlighting the reasons why Shanahan was willing to pay top dollar for the free-agent running back. Earlier this week, I wrote an additional article here at Niner Noise, highlighting one of McKinnon’s greatest strengths: his ability to block in the passing game.
Shanahan views McKinnon as a three-down back, as McKinnon displays many similarities to the Atlanta Falcons’ top running back Devonta Freeman, who had two Pro Bowl seasons under Shanahan in Atlanta.
Earlier this week, Michael Renz of Fantasy Pros pointed out the similarities between the two backs in the season immediately preceding their first year with Shanahan:
— Mitchell Renz (@MitchellRenz365) April 2, 2018
McKinnon and Freeman were very similar from an efficiency standpoint, although McKinnon was more productive overall — doubling Freeman’s yardage and touchdown totals — thanks to increased playing time after Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook sustained a season-ending injury.
Prior to entering the league, the two backs were considered similar prospects, with McKinnon drafted at the end of the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and Freeman selected just seven picks later. McKinnon had a record-breaking performance at the NFL Scouting Combine — setting the NFL record for bench presses by a running back — and bettered Freeman in each of the combine drills, including the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, three cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
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After a lackluster rookie year, Freeman was fantasy football’s top running back in both standard and PPR scoring in his first season with Shanahan as offensive coordinator, amassing 1,634 total yards and 14 total touchdowns. Freeman followed up his sophomore campaign with another stellar season, finishing the year with 1,541 total yards and 13 total touchdowns — good for sixth among running backs in both scoring formats — including an additional 330 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs.
McKinnon is currently coming off the board in the sixth to eighth rounds of fantasy football drafts — depending on the scoring format of the league — while Freeman is an early second-round selection despite rushing for just 865 yards last season and splitting time with fellow RB Tevin Coleman.
Meanwhile, McKinnon will compete for touches with inxperienced halfbacks Matt Breida and Joe WIlliams, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The 49ers have yet to sign a big-bodied back that would limit McKinnon’s touchdown upside near the goal line, although they could select such a player in the upcoming NFL Draft.
If history is any indicator, San Franicsco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon has the potential to provide your fantasy football team with first-round productivity from a middle-round draft pick.