49ers roster: Jeff Wilson injury opens up bigger door for Trey Sermon

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon (8) Mandatory Credit: Imagn Images
Ohio State Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon (8) Mandatory Credit: Imagn Images /

It’s far from ideal, but the 49ers losing running back Jeff Wilson to a knee injury opens up the door for rookie Trey Sermon to have an increased load in 2021.

The San Francisco 49ers‘ running back room just took a bit of a hit during OTAs, when NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Jeff Wilson Jr. “recently underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus” and would “miss four to six months,” therefore cutting into his ability to be available for the start of the 2021 campaign.

While it seemed like a massive luxury move at the time, good thing the Niners added two rookies in the 2021 NFL Draft, Ohio State’s Trey Sermon and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah Mitchell, to bolster the running back position this offseason.

Mitchell, a sixth-round pick, was likely going to start training camp on the roster bubble, but Wilson’s injury opens a path for him to make the 53-man regular-season group.

But Sermon, selected in Round 3, is poised to have an even bigger role in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense now.

How Jeff Wilson’s injury improves Trey Sermon’s value to 49ers

San Francisco still has running backs Raheem Mostert, Wayne Gallman and JaMycal Hasty to pair with both Sermon and Mitchell. Yet Mostert dealt with his own injuries last season, which limited him to just eight games played. Having just turned 29 years old and entering a contract year, there’s a good chance 2021 marks Mostert’s final year with the 49ers.

Hasty, too, suffered an ACL tear late last season, and he might not be ready to go by Week 1.

Now with Wilson out, even more signs are pointing towards Sermon getting an increased workload.

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The Niners appreciated Wilson’s fill-in specialties last season. In two of the three games the 25-year-old Wilson started, he rushed for over 100 yards and was the key X-factor in San Francisco’s wins over the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals in Weeks 7 and 16, respectively. In many ways, Sermon has a similar skill set and build as Wilson, as both players are 6-foot tall and are underrated pass-catchers.

Wilson flashed the occasional ability to be a bell-cow running back. And while Shanahan has never truly employed an RB1 to take the lion’s share of rushing snaps, one might figure Sermon could be the first deployed in such a manner in the 49ers offense.

Especially because Shanahan has never drafted a running back as high as Sermon.

In the immediate future, Mostert probably isn’t going to see too much field time during OTAs this spring and further reps during training camp and the preseason. Wilson, tabbed as a reserve, would have seen a good chunk of field time in advance of Week 1, however, so his injury absence likely points to increased looks in Sermon’s direction.

And if he capitalizes on those, it’s certainly a bonus for Shanahan and Co.

As for Wilson, the Niners probably end up shelving him on an injury list to start the season, potentially keeping him as a reserve option to possibly delegate as a returnee to bolster the running back room when he’s recovered from his offseason injury and surgery.

In the meantime, look for Sermon to have a greater focus placed upon him.

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