49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Can Salvon Ahmed crack 53-man roster?

Running back Salvon Ahmed #26 of the Washington Huskies (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Running back Salvon Ahmed #26 of the Washington Huskies (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

Can rookie Salvon Ahmed make the 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020?

He surely faces an uphill fight to make the San Francisco 49ers‘ 53-man roster this season. But former Washington running back Salvon Ahmed could easily be head coach Kyle Shanahan’s latest hidden-gem find.

After all, the head coach’s abilities to identify and develop less-heralded talent at the position are well documented.

In 2017, Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida was the name to watch. While Breida is gone now, and the Niners still boast a deep running back room heading into this season, there’s a better-than-distant chance Ahmed becomes the next player to seemingly “come out of nowhere.”

The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Ahmed enjoyed a productive final season with the Huskies, rushing for 1,020 yards and averaging 5.4 yards per attempt en route to 11 touchdowns. And while it wasn’t a massive part of his game, Ahmed’s abilities as a pass-catcher out of the backfield probably caught Shanahan’s attention, too.

Salvon Ahmed Rushing & Receiving Table

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 5/28/2020.

Ahmed went undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft. Yet the Niners swooped in shortly after Round 7 concluded, making him an undrafted free agent and offered him a three-year, $2.295 million deal, which is pretty lofty for a UDFA.

By that account, there’s good reason to suspect the 49ers want to make Ahmed a part of their long-term plans.

What Salvon Ahmed Brings to the 49ers

Ahmed doesn’t necessarily boast breakneck speed, running a 4.62 40-yard time at the NFL Combine. But what he might lack in straight-line speed, he more than makes up for it with shiftiness and agility.

This January scouting report from our friends over at With the First Pick highlight these traits.

In fact, this elusiveness can be his best trait, which could bode well in Shanahan’s system built on getting runners quickly into the second level where more one-on-one tackles are prevalent.

And while Ahmed wasn’t a prolific pass-catching option in college, those receptions he made during his time at Washington showcase some versatility that could come in handy.

What Could Prevent Salvon Ahmed from Developing Further

Yes, Ahmed’s elusiveness and slippery abilities make him an attractive developmental option. But he’s not the most sound in technique, nor does he adequately read the right holes when they appear.

This could prove problematic in an outside-zone blocking scheme which, while getting to the outside is important, does mandate the ability to exploit lanes within the tackles. In some of the Pac-12 games watched last year, Ahmed would frequently look to bounce too far outside, expending a lot of effort for what turned into a net 1- or 2-yard gain.

Because of this, there could be a lot of inconsistency with the running back early on, which could hinder his chances of making the 49ers’ 53-man roster.

Chances of Salvon Ahmed Making 49ers’ 53-Man Roster in 2020

They’re distant but reasonable.

San Francisco already has three running backs capable of starting this season: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon. In addition, Jeff Wilson and fellow UDFA rookie JaMycal Hasty could challenge Ahmed for reps during training camp and the preseason.

To make the 53-man roster right away, Ahmed would have to vastly outperform both Wilson and Hasty. And that’s assuming Shanahan would want to keep four running backs on his roster this season, which is entirely possible.

That’s probably Ahmed’s best-case scenario, as it doesn’t seem as if the Niners would part ways with any of their three established veterans, barring injury.

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If this doesn’t happen, there’s always the practice squad, which could at least provide Ahmed the possibility of developing his skill set into something more valuable in coming seasons.