49ers juicy camp battle No. 1: Running back
On the surface, it doesn’t appear as if San Francisco’s running back situation will be all that provocative. After all, it’s also a deep group of runners who all seem to have established roles heading into the regular season anyway.
It’s more fluid than you think, though.
Sure, second-year pro Elijah Mitchell seems to be the preferred choice for a featured back, especially in light of his franchise-record 963 rookie rush yards in 2021 over 11 games. If Mitchell can stay healthy over a 17-game season, that’s a massive boost for a run-first offense.
Yet Mitchell might not be the starter, and he probably won’t be a short-yardage rusher either.
In previous seasons, Kyle Shanahan has used more bruising-type running backs to test out opposing defenses first, such as Tevin Coleman in 2019, before turning things over to speed threats like Mitchell.
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This partially explains why the rookie, Tyrion Davis-Price, entered the fray in Round 3 of this year’s draft. He’ll be called upon to deliver in those short-yardage situations and to potentially serve as the team’s go-to option early in games.
What this means for the crop of reserve running backs is anyone’s guess, particularly the futures of Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon and JaMycal Hasty. Even the undrafted rookie, Jordan Mason, has to be considered a sleeper.
Knowing Shanahan will let his running backs determine their own roles, it will surely be a provocative depth-chart battle to watch once the pads go on later this summer.