Jeff Wilson Jr. will be 49ers biggest unsung hero in 2021

Jeff Wilson #30 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Jeff Wilson #30 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

When given the opportunity, 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. has been a potent offensive weapon, and expect more of the same in 2021.

It’s usually a good idea for the San Francisco 49ers to feature Jeff Wilson Jr. as one of their prominent running backs.

Despite never having a consistent role or regular opportunities since joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas in 2018, Wilson has nevertheless shined when counted upon. He almost single-handedly beat the New England Patriots in Week 7 last year with a 112-yard, three-touchdown game. And even though he suffered a serious ankle injury during that contest, Wilson came back to be the difference-maker in Week 16’s win over the Arizona Cardinals, too, rushing for 183 yards and adding 21 yards and a touchdown through the air.

While Wilson has largely been overshadowed by fellow Niners rushers of late, such as Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, the production from Wilson can’t be overstated.

Case in point, in the wake of injuries in 2020 to both Mostert and Coleman, Wilson ended up leading San Francisco in rushing with 600 yards, averaging an impressive 4.8 yards per carry in the process.

Heading into 2021, there are plenty of reasons to believe Wilson could be an even bigger factor in the 49ers offense despite being a relatively unknown commodity outside of Niners circles.

Jeff Wilson should see an increased role with 49ers in 2021

Injuries were the prime reason why Wilson ended up leading San Francisco in rushing last season.

With Mostert appearing in just eight games last year, the 49ers were denied their most effective running back and the 2020 NFL leader in top speed by a ball-carrier, according to Next Gen Stats.

Even then, head coach Kyle Shanahan would have turned more regularly to fellow runners on the roster like Coleman and Jerick McKinnon instead of Wilson. Only Coleman and McKinnon, both unrestricted free agents, aren’t expected back in 2021.

This should free up spots on the depth chart for Wilson to climb right back into the No. 2 role behind Mostert, and this thought is made even more apparent by the Niners inking Wilson to a one-year, $2.05 million fully guaranteed contract, making him an unrestricted free agent in 2022.

Going into a contract year should provide motivation for Wilson, too.

But the other factor at play here is Shanahan doesn’t rely solely on one running back in a traditional starter, RB2, RB3 or goal-line format. No, he either chooses to use the increasingly common running back-by-committee approach or focuses more on who’s hot.

Based on Wilson’s three starts last year when he rushed for 110-plus yards in two of them, it’s safe to assume the 25 year old should see a notable uptick in use.

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He won’t receive quite the attention Mostert gets. But Jeff Wilson has already improved his stock value to San Francisco, and that might only improve with increased looks over the course of 2021.