49ers roster: Jeff Wilson is under the microscope after injury

San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson (30) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson (30) Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers running back Jeff Wilson now has a crowded rotation to break back into after undergoing surgery and finding himself on the sidelines.

It hasn’t taken long, but the San Francisco 49ers have a new name on the injury list as they look to turn 2021 into a winning season.

Running back Jeff Wilson is very talented, but unfortunately, he’s never been able to put together a truly big season to cement himself on the roster.

With the news that he’s out for four to six months due to knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, the future of Wilson is in doubt as the Niners look to reshape their roster for a push back to the playoffs.

The reason why is very simple. The team drafted two running backs in Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell, and also picked up a cheap but decent rotational piece in Wayne Gallman.

Gallman is just one small piece of the puzzle, but the real question of where Wilson fits in the long term revolves around the two rookie backs. Let’s take a brief look at why each back could essentially put Wilson’s future with the 49ers in doubt.

49ers’ Trey Sermon

Sermon looks like he could be the bell-cow back of the rotation. Taking a lot of the early carries and softening up the defense. Raheem Mostert remains arguably the No. 1 running back, but he himself has questionable durability and should see fewer snaps to keep him fresh and less likely to break down.

While Wilson isn’t someone who can take 20 carries a game, he was always someone who could chip in and even start a game or two. But now that Sermon is on the team, a player whom the Niners loved enough to trade up for relatively early in the draft despite the ability of head coach Kyle Shanahan to seemingly take someone off the street and make him a decent running back, that hole has hopefully now been filled.

If Sermon and Mostert take the majority of the snaps, this makes it a lot harder for Wilson to get snaps.

It’s going to be even harder now that he’s out for some months.

49ers’ Elijah Mitchell

Wilson had one ability that always gave him a place on the roster, and that was he was the best receiving back the team had.

But with Mitchell showing some nifty skills in that department, the team now has a player in the rotation who can take those receiving snaps. Mitchell has been punching above his weight in the preseason (albeit without pads, exactly how he fares in proper practice and preseason games still remains to be seen) and Wilson’s injury now gives him a clear path to carve out some snaps for himself.

For Wilson, his tenure with San Francisco is now in a precarious balance. When he comes back, can he force his way back in the rotation? Or will he join Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman on another team?

The 49ers will likely stash him on injured reserve for now, but what happens after that is a bridge San Francisco will eventually need to cross.

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