No. 5: Releasing RB Jeff Wilson
The 49ers’ decision to cut running back Jeff Wilson surprised — and upset — many Niner fans, particularly after the news that fellow RB Jerick McKinnon would be placed on season-ending Injured Reserve first broke on Friday. Wilson achieved “Kory Sheets is our Future” status in the team’s fourth preseason game, when he rushed for 100 yards and a score.
Wilson’s preseason Week 4 touchdown came at the end of a nifty 41-yard run where he was forced to change direction and cross the field with Beathard acting as his more-willing-than-able lead blocker. Overall, Wilson had a particularly strong preseason, as the second-year runner led the 49ers with 178 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.
Wilson ran with more purpose this year than he did in the six games he played for San Francisco at the end of the 2018 season. He also demonstrated extra burst and quickness despite the additional weight he added to his frame over the offseason, so there is an argument to be made for retaining the RB.
The former undrafted free agent has shown that he can be a competent running back at the next level, but in the end, he’s “just another guy.” Wilson averaged 4.0 yards per rush last season, and ran at a mere 3.4 yards-per-carry clip this preseason when you remove his 41-yard run. Wilson’s long touchdown was an outlier for the young back, who entered the game with a longest rush of nine yards, which understandably ranked last among the seven non-quarterbacks who ran the ball for the 49ers during the preseason.
Perhaps Wilson’s biggest negative is his propensity to put the ball on the ground, which was an issue for the back during his college days and in his six NFL games last season. Wilson fumbled once on Thursday and a second fumbled handoff was credited to quarterback Wilton Speight.
Given the 49ers’ turnover problems last season and the running back’s low upside, Wilson will remain a high-risk, low-reward option for the team until he proves he can consistently hold on to the ball. However, the hard-running RB is back on the 49ers’ practice squad after clearing waivers, so there’s a good chance we’ll see Wilson in red-and-gold again during the 2019 season.