4 backups SF 49ers should start over final 3 games of 2020
By Peter Panacy
With the playoffs all but out of reach, the SF 49ers should look to the deeper parts of their depth chart to see what those players can offer.
Let’s face it, the 5-8 SF 49ers aren’t going to the playoffs this season. And even if they do, the overwhelming number of injuries and sheer lack of talent elsewhere on the roster, particularly on offense, would likely result in a first-round exit and a fumbling of the so-called “revenge tour” of 2020.
With three games left on the regular-season schedule, the Niners have to be more focused on the offseason and reconstructing a roster capable of getting back to those lofty goals head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. already had upon the inception of this season. 2021 now needs to be the focus. And while it’s critical for San Francisco to finish on a positive note, these final games offer up a unique chance for Shanahan and his staff to evaluate some of the deeper portions of the roster.
Resting some players who are all but pegged as starters next season would be wise, guarding against injury. And using these final three games as a sort of “late 2020 preseason preview” for next year has some value, too.
As such, these four reserve backups should get some nods as starters down the stretch to see if they have anything to offer.
No. 4: SF 49ers Running Back Austin Walter
The SF 49ers running back room remains crowded, but it’s a group that could see substantial turnover this offseason.
Veteran running backs Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson are all free agents in 2021, and Wilson is of the restricted variety. Even if he stays, there’s a real chance Coleman and McKinnon are gone. Considering the lack of attention they’ve both received from Shanahan in recent weeks, it’s a safe bet the Niners don’t want them back anyway.
Shanahan could lean on Wilson and No. 1 running back Raheem Mostert a lot down the stretch. But in the interest of preventing either player from serious injury, it would be worth giving second-year tailback Austin Walter some more looks.
Walter has impressed in limited fashion this season, already being used as a kick-return specialist while also posting a 27-yard reception back in Week 10. He hasn’t been given much of a chance running, though, boasting just one carry for 3 yards.
If Shanahan’s genius truly is getting the most out of unheralded tailbacks, letting Walter have a crack at it these final games would be a wise move.