As the 2019 NFL preseason is drawing to a close, the battle at running back for the San Francisco 49ers is closer than ever. With Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman both pushing for the top spot, does one player have an edge over the other?
Coming into the season it was expected San Francisco 49ers‘ running back Jerick McKinnon would play a large role in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, after missing the entire of 2018 with an ACL tear.
That, however, is looking more and more unlikely. McKinnon is reported to return shortly. However, he has continued to struggle to return to full health.
Enter running backs Matt Breida and newly signed Tevin Coleman. With McKinnon still out of the picture for the time being, it will be up to these two players to lead the way for the 49ers and develop a rock steady run game.
Given the 49ers’ already-loaded running back group, it was somewhat of a head scratcher when the Niners signed Coleman. However, it is entirely feasible the offseason reports surrounding McKinnon’s great progress may have been somewhat optimistic.
Which makes the Coleman signing that much more understandable.
Furthermore, Shanahan has previously stated he is more than open to signing players where he sees a benefit and improvement to adding depth and skill to the 49ers’ roster. Something which Coleman most definitely does.
So, given the limited snaps we’ve seen so far of both Breida and Coleman during the preseason games, training camp and knowing the history of the two players, does one have the edge over the other to secure the top spot?
Well, that all entirely depends on just how exactly Shanahan intends on utilizing his backs. Will he aim to produce a true No. 1 running back, or ultimately go for of a running back by committee, sharing the workload?
Whichever option Shanahan does indeed decide on, who the 49ers play on a weekly basis will likely also contribute to who receives more snaps.
With Breida having a truly breakout year in 2018, it’s hard to argue that he shouldn’t in fact be the Niners No. 1 back. Grossing a combined total of 1,075 rushing and receiving yards, he transformed into the precise running back Shanahan was on the hunt for to compliment his offense.
And, given his performance thus far in 2019, there’s no reason why Breida shouldn’t be capable of replicating or surpassing his sophomore year accomplishment.
He was the standout compared to Coleman during Week 3 of preseason against the Kansas City Chiefs. Completing seven carries for a total of 44 rushing yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Breida would also go on to have two receptions for 31 yards.
One of which resulted in a touchdown courtesy of a pinpoint throw from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:
Similarly, to Breida, Coleman is a dual-threat running back with both an effective rushing and pass-catching ability. Coleman and Shanahan also have history together from the coach’s time in Atlanta as offensive coordinator of the Falcons in 2015 and 2016. Coleman knows the offensive scheme and, in turn, Shanahan already knows what Coleman is capable of and how to utilize him to the best of his ability.
Since the Falcons originally drafted him back in 2015, Coleman’s rushing yards have gone up steadily year by year, with 2018 being his most productive thus far. 2018 saw Coleman with a combined total of 1,076 rushing and receiving yards. With a scarily equal performance and stats matched against Breida.
And, while Coleman has been receiving snaps with the first team for much of training camp and indicating Shanahan may in fact be favoring him over Breida for the No. 1 position, does he deserve it?
Well, that’s something that is open to everyone’s own interpretation and preference. I’ll admit after last year’s showing, it would be somewhat disappointing to see Breida relegated to a backup roll. However, at the end of the day, I’m happy with the best player to start.
Whether that turns out to be Coleman or Breida, we will have to wait and see.