The San Francisco 49ers are stocked at running back heading into 2019, which has led to speculation whether or not all four tailbacks stay on the roster this season.
Running back wasn’t exactly a pressing need for the San Francisco 49ers entering 2019. After all, despite losing No. 1 tailback Jerick McKinnon to a season-ending ACL tear before the 2018 regular season even began, the Niners managed to get by thanks to a stout year from second-year pro Matt Breida, who managed an impressive 5.3 yards per carry.
Both Breida and McKinnon were poised to finally be that one-two tandem head coach Kyle Shanahan was going to employ on a regular basis. And with special teams ace Raheem Mostert, also returning from a season-ending injury in Week 9, San Francisco’s crop of runners was pretty much set.
This prompted some speculation the 49ers may be moving on from one of their runners, especially considering Coleman thrived under Shanahan when both worked together with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 and 2016. Our friend Al Sacco of 49ers Webzone and Niners Wire heard rumblings of the Niners being involved in possibly moving one of their excess tailbacks, too:
Sacco later clarified it seemed other teams were interested in would-be trades, while San Francisco appeared content to roll forward with all four runners.
Mostert, who just inked a three-year extension, was tabbed by NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco as one of the league’s best special teams aces. Those are valuable commodities, especially as San Francisco’s special teams took a bit of a hit when Mostert went down last year.
So Mostert isn’t going anywhere, but what about the remaining three?
Breida’s 5.3 yards-per-carry average last season ranked fourth best among qualifiers. And while he was regularly banged up throughout the year (that’s important to acknowledge), he still managed to appear in 14 games and posted a hefty 153 rush attempts in the process.
It looks like Breida’s job is safe, too.
Coleman and McKinnon have similar skill sets, although the former is three inches taller and slightly heavier than his new teammate. Plus, Shanahan’s familiarity with Coleman would seem to put McKinnon’s future in doubt, right?
That’s the conundrum — are the 49ers going to move McKinnon now that Shanahan has a running back he likes better than his 2018 free-agent pickup?
One of the main factors is, of course, the swarm of injuries the Niners dealt with here. In 2018, San Francisco saw four different running backs reach at least 30 carries on the season — the other two from Breida and Mostert being Jeff Wilson and Alfred Morris. Morris is no longer in the team’s plans, and Wilson may easily be relegated back to practice squad status this season.
Plus, McKinnon’s ACL recovery is something the 49ers will closely monitor between now and the regular season. It’s very possible, perhaps likely San Francisco starts McKinnon on the physically unable-to-perform (PUP) list to start the season, waiting to promote McKinnon to the active roster as an insurance policy, albeit a relatively expensive one.
Even if all four are healthy, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see Shanahan rotate all three offensive runners, saving Mostert for special teams, while cutting an active roster spot at another position of less-needed depth (i.e. wide receiver, tight end, etc.).
We’ll know more as training camp develops, of course. But to think any one of the Niners running backs is in danger of losing his roster spot is premature.