49ers’ 2019 ‘Who Is?’ series: Running back Tevin Coleman

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 18: Tevin Coleman #26 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the ball against Jaquiski Tartt #29 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at the Georgia Dome on December 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 18: Tevin Coleman #26 of the Atlanta Falcons runs the ball against Jaquiski Tartt #29 of the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at the Georgia Dome on December 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Niner Noise’s 2019 “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players looks at a key free-agent pickup, running back Tevin Coleman, and his projected role and impact this season.

The San Francisco 49ers didn’t need to go out and land a high-profile running back in free agency this offseason. But they did, signing former Atlanta Falcons tailback Tevin Coleman to a two-year, $8.5 million deal.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has continuously stressed the importance of making improvements at all positions, irregardless whether or not the Niners already have adequate depth there.

In the case of Coleman, San Francisco made a pretty notable stride.

Coleman, of course, played under Shanahan when both were with the Falcons back in 2015 and 2016. Looking at the numbers, the 26-year-old Coleman sure seemed to thrive in a complementary role to Atlanta’s top running back, Devonta Freeman:

Tevin Coleman Rushing & Receiving Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/20/2019.

Coleman saw an uptick in production in 2018 with Freeman landing on injured reserve after just two games. Yet Shanahan figures to deploy Coleman in a role not unlike what he enjoyed back in 2016, especially given San Francisco’s depth at the position already.

So, given that depth, how should one expect Coleman to improve over the course of the season, and what kind of role will he hold in the offense?

Why Tevin Coleman Improves in 2019

One should point out Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons’ 2016 offensive line sixth best in the NFL that season. Shanahan, meanwhile, has spent the past year-plus upgrading the 49ers O-line. Despite this unit’s 15th-spot ranking by PFF last year, a full year of continuity should do some good.

Shanahan also used Coleman as a massive piece in the backfield-passing game, too, which resulted in those 421 receiving yards back in 2016. Given the Niners already have another pass-catching tailback, Jerick McKinnon, Shanahan will have no shortage of options how to deploy these two weapons.

That depth — McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert — should also serve to keep Coleman fresh over a full 16-game season.

Why Tevin Coleman Regresses

It’s hard to envision how Coleman suffers any sort of non-injury setback, given his previous success in a Shanahan offense.

That said, Coleman being able to thrive in Atlanta’s offense back in 2016 could be misleading to an extent. After all, the Falcons boasted the league’s No. 1 scoring offense that year, and the 49ers aren’t exactly at that point just yet. So the going might be a bit tougher, although one could also argue Coleman was nearly just as effective with a relatively lackluster Falcons offense a year ago, too.

It’s possible Coleman has some difficulty adjusting to his new offensive line, so keep an eye on that. And with McKinnon, Breida and Mostert also taking away carries, you might not see the kind of numbers initially envisioned when San Francisco signed Coleman.

Projected Role with the 49ers in 2019

The 49ers are likely to keep the aforementioned runners on their 53-man roster this season, so Coleman’s roster spot is all but guaranteed, barring injury or a complete meltdown in training camp.

Shanahan already indicated his running backs will define their own roles between now and Week 1, meaning the depth chart is yet to be determined. Yet there is a key position battle to watch here, especially with McKinnon.

McKinnon, who was one of San Francisco’s top free-agent targets in 2018, is coming off his torn ACL from last year and has yet to play a regular-season down in a 49ers uniform. Similar to Coleman, McKinnon is a versatile pass-catching running back, and the two have related skill sets. It’s possible Shanahan prefers to ease McKinnon back into the fray, leaving Coleman to handle primary dual-threat duties out of the backfield to start the season.

The additional tailbacks, barring injury, will cut into Coleman’s overall rushing numbers, meaning you’ll likely wind up seeing a closer split between rushing and receiving yards than Coleman’s 2018 campaign.

Next. How Kyle Shanahan will deploy his running backs in 2019. dark

And that would be perfectly fine, considering the kind of success Coleman had in Shanahan’s offense, previously.