49ers can finally see what Jerick McKinnon can do in 2020

Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Jerick McKinnon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /
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The 49ers are finally getting Jerick McKinnon back from his two-year ACL absence, meaning the offense could look much more explosive in 2020.

There are fewer levels of frustration than what San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon must have endured over the past two years.

Months after signing a lucrative four-year, $30 million free-agent contract with the Niners in 2018, McKinnon then tore his ACL just days ahead of the team’s Week 1 opener against his former squad, the Minnesota Vikings. Head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters shortly thereafter his offense would have to be “drastically” changed in the wake of McKinnon’s injury.

Additional complications with the injury recovery kept him off the field again in 2019, which ultimately led to McKinnon restructuring his deal, turning 2021 into essentially an option year.

Now, heading into 2020, McKinnon heads into the season amid a crowded running back room with Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson and others vying for field time. Yet McKinnon’s relative lack of use with the Vikings, combined with his dynamic pass-catching abilities, could ultimately mean the return of the offense Shanahan once envisioned:

Jerick McKinnon Rushing & Receiving Table
GameGameRushRushRushRushRushRushRushReceReceReceReceReceRece
YearAgeTmGGSRushYdsTD1DLngY/AY/GTgtRecYdsTDY/GCtch%Fmb
201422MIN116113538024554.848.94127135012.365.9%0
201523MIN16052271213685.216.92921173110.872.4%0
201624MIN157159539221363.435.95343255217.081.1%0
201725MIN161150570324583.835.66851421226.375.0%3
CareCare58144741918782684.033.1191142984517.074.3%3

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/15/2020.

There’s far more to McKinnon’s game than just his statistics, too. And perhaps those end up shining just as much as what he could potentially offer to San Francisco this upcoming season.

Niner Noise breaks down why McKinnon could finally explode onto the scene in our latest “Who Is?” installment on 49ers players.

Why Jerick McKinnon improves with 49ers in 2020

Well, even just seeing the field would be an improvement for McKinnon this season. But let’s base it off his 2017 efforts with the Vikings where he managed 991 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. Those are close to the kind of numbers Mostert had for San Francisco a season ago.

And with Mostert now disgruntled over a contract situation, there’s reason to believe McKinnon winds up being a beneficiary.

Shanahan won’t get away from using a running back-by-committee approach in 2020, meaning Coleman likely sees a lot of the early carries on first- and second-down situations. But McKinnon could be that vital explosive pass-catching back out of the backfield on third downs.

If you’re not convinced about the explosiveness, just check out his 146-yard effort versus the Chicago Bears in the video below:

McKinnon was featured for short-area passes, which will undoubtedly help quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. But those explosive runs are what could make Mostert a bit less vital to the team’s future plans.

On top of those traits, McKinnon’s pass-blocking efforts are pretty exemplary, too, as Niner Noise’s Chris Wilson broke down back in 2018.

If the pieces are to all come together, there’s little reason to expect anything else but a stellar season from the 28 year old.

Why Jerick McKinnon regresses with 49ers in 2020

The ACL tear. Some players recover from the injury. Others are never quite the same.

It’s anyone’s guess how McKinnon will fare in true on-field action this upcoming season. Granted, he’s had two years to rehabilitate the injury while acclimating himself to Shanahan’s offense. But once the pads come on and the contact is real, it’s another story.

Plus, at 28 years old, McKinnon is no longer the young up-and-comer he once was during his earlier years in Minnesota. This is likely one of the key reasons the 49ers renegotiated his contract, understanding there’s a real chance McKinnon won’t be the versatile offensive weapon they expected him to be when he was signed back in 2018.

McKinnon should benefit from not having to shoulder a massive workload. Splitting reps between Coleman and Mostert, assuming the latter remains on the roster, will help cut down on McKinnon’s wear and tear.

But it’ll also be more difficult for him to find any sort of rhythm, and it’s possible fans see a player who just doesn’t quite mesh with what his original expectation level was.

Expected role with 49ers in 2020

So much hinges on San Francisco’s situation with Mostert. Right now, he’s the team’s best tailback, although one could argue a player like McKinnon could thrive just as much in Shanahan’s offense.

Regardless, Mostert being on the roster will take away a lot of snaps from McKinnon, especially early in the year when the Niners are trying to get the latter back into practical football shape. The lack of offseason workouts and an odd training camp, thanks to the current pandemic, could also complicate matters a lot between now and Week 1.

Simply put, McKinnon might not get the workload early in the year.

But that could ultimately benefit both McKinnon and the 49ers. San Francisco’s offense is still predicated on the run, meaning a healthy and relatively fresh tailback is always vital during the second half. Last year, this was Mostert, who didn’t exactly burst onto the scene until halfway through the regular season.

In 2020, McKinnon could wind up stealing the show.

Next. 5 bold predictions for 49ers offense in 2020. dark

McKinnon needs to recapture those traits he flashed during his 2017 campaign in Minnesota, then he needs to make sure he stays fully healthy to reach a clear-cut role in San Francisco’s offense.

If he does, one can expect the Niners backfield to be one of the most potent in the league this season.