49ers’ 2019 ‘Who Is?’ series: Running back Matt Breida

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 21: Matt Breida #22 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes with the ball against the Los Angeles Rams during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 21: Matt Breida #22 of the San Francisco 49ers rushes with the ball against the Los Angeles Rams during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Niner Noise’s 2019 “Who Is?” series takes a closer look at San Francisco 49ers running back Matt Breida amid a crowded backfield, suggesting his role this season.

The San Francisco 49ers have had some notable luck grabbing undrafted free agents and putting them into starting roles as of late.

Perhaps one, third-year running back Matt Breida, outshines the rest, as his sudden thrust into the starting role last season earned him more than just a little bit of noteworthy respect around the league.

Following a season-ending ACL tear to then-projected starting running back Jerick McKinnon before the regular season even began, Breida assumed starter’s duties and eventually finished the year with an impressive 5.3 yards per carry — fourth best in the NFL — and a total of 814 rush yards and three rushing touchdowns:

Matt Breida Rushing & Receiving Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/13/2019.

Additionally, despite it not being his forte coming out of Georgia Southern, Breida managed to be a reliable pass-catching option out of the backfield, too, picking up an additional 261 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Despite all this, Breida was regularly banged up for most of the year and might not be able to handle the rigors of full-time duty. And with a crowded crop of tailbacks on the 49ers’ 90-man offseason roster, what will Breida have to do to assume a prominent role with the offense this season?

Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Matt Breida Improves in 2019

Somewhat lost in Breida’s impressive 2018 campaign is the fact he was actually the NFL’s fastest player last season, boasting an astounding 22.09 mile-per-hour rate back in Week 12.

Speed is one of Breida’s best attributes, and that’s something he’ll need to recapture this season to maintain his level of effectiveness. Plus, San Francisco’s run-first offensive line should have a full year playing together under its belt, meaning there should be more fluidity up front, too.

Breida will also have to maintain a constant level of health, which dogged him for much of 2018. If he can avoid the injury bug, including merely just staying off weekly injury reports, that would be a good sign moving forward.

Why Matt Breida Regresses

Injuries aside, Breida is likely going to have far fewer chances to cement himself as a regular role player this season. In addition to McKinnon’s return, the 49ers also brought in aboard head coach Kyle Shanahan’s favorite from his days with the Atlanta Falcons, versatile running back Tevin Coleman.

Rotating running backs is an essential part to Shanahan’s offense, so the three No. 1-tailback candidates should all get their chances this season, even if each one of them stays healthy.

Ultimately, though, a fully healthy crop of runners means Breida likely won’t get the same number of touches over the course of the season. And given both McKinnon and Coleman’s prowess in the passing game, it’s likely Breida’s numbers take a hit in that category, too.

Projected Role with the 49ers in 2019

If the Niners were to only keep two running backs on their roster this season, it would make sense Breida would be the odd man out, given he’s an undrafted free agent on a rookie contract.

Yet Breida’s stats from last year certainly suggest otherwise, and Shanahan has already reiterated the desire to hold onto three runners as insurance against injury and the inevitable wear and tear, which Breida dealt with last season.

Shanahan also said the players will define their own roles for 2019.

So, what role will Breida have this year?

Breida is arguably the team’s best between-the-tackles runner. And while San Francisco primarily operates outside-zone plays, this doesn’t completely take away traditional inside rushes. Look for Breida to be a primary option on running downs, even if he isn’t always out there on first- and second-down plays.

And while his overall rushing numbers and attempts may go down in 2019, the lesser use could translate into bigger and better returns, as fewer carries help keep the third-year pro fresh and healthy throughout a full 16-game season.

dark. Next. How the 49ers deploy their running backs in 2019

Less use likely equals better results, in this case.