Why Trey Sermon bounces back for 49ers in a big way in 2022

Trey Sermon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Trey Sermon #28 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers can feel a bit frustrated Trey Sermon didn’t latch on as a top weapon last season, but there are reasons to suspect he improves a lot in 2022.

2021 rookie running back Trey Sermon had a golden opportunity to cement himself as a key figurehead in the San Francisco 49ers offense last season.

As a third-round NFL Draft pick taken out of Ohio State, the Niners appeared keen on making Sermon a bell cow-type tailback in their offense, potentially serving as an heir apparent to the No. 1 player on the depth chart entering 2021, veteran running back Raheem Mostert.

And when Mostert was lost for the season with a knee injury in Week 1, all signs pointed to Sermon being the featured piece.

Except things didn’t exactly pan out that way.

Instead of Sermon, it was fellow running back Elijah Mitchell, the sixth-round rookie, who flourished and took over the No. 1 role in the wake of Mostert’s injury. And while Mitchell also dealt with injury setbacks that limited him to just 11 games played, the fact he set a franchise record for rookie tailbacks with 963 rush yards last season suggests he’s not going to drop down the depth chart in 2022.

Bad news for Sermon, right? Well, not so fast.

Trey Sermon had a frustrating rookie year for 49ers

Both in terms of traditional stats and by watching the film, it was pretty clear Sermon had a long way to go before cementing himself as a regular offensive contributor.

A mere 167 rush yards, one touchdown and a 4.1 yards-per-carry mark on 41 carries over nine games played doesn’t suggest a significant return on investment, and even his week-to-week impact was minimal aside from his Week 4 start against the Seattle Seahawks, one of only two starts he made during the season in the wake of injuries to both Mostert and Mitchell.

Sermon only saw 11 carries for the rest of the season.

A scratch for San Francisco’s first two playoff games, then only used on special teams in the NFC Championship game, it might be easy to completely give up on Sermon heading into 2022.

But there are signs the 49ers will give him yet another chance to cement his role again next season.

Trey Sermon should have a better chance with 49ers in 2022

There are still a number of X-factors at play heading into the offseason and before training camp. But a big part of the equation is the fact two of the Niners’ key running backs, Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr., are unrestricted free agents and stand a good chance of not returning.

By looking simply at the under-contract depth chart for 2022 alone, all one needs to do is realize Mitchell, Sermon and third-year pro JaMycal Hasty are the only options San Francisco has available.

Sure, it’s possible the 49ers re-sign Mostert, who’ll turn 30 years old this offseason and has a lengthy history of injuries. Same with Wilson, although he’s notably younger and will likely be much cheaper.

But considering the fact the Niners have other pressing needs elsewhere on the roster and may turn to in-house options to beef up the depth chart, one could argue Sermon climbs back up that depth chart into a No. 2 spot behind Mitchell.

Read More: Final year-end grades for 49ers 2021 NFL Draft class

All the while leaving Hasty as a scatback third-down option in unique situations.

Sermon, too, has to realize the sense of urgency at hand. Head coach Kyle Shanahan simply won’t hand him a job over Mitchell because of draft status, and the fact Sermon failed to seize the initial opportunity doesn’t bode well for him this offseason either.

A full year immersed in that context, however, should be precisely what he needs to improve upon what was otherwise a frustrating 2021 campaign.

If so, Sermon and the rest of San Francisco’s offense will be better off because of it.

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