There’s no other way about it, 49ers running back Trey Sermon had a disappointing rookie season, and that trend will need to change soon if he wants a clear role.
San Francisco 49ers second-year running back Trey Sermon is already facing a crossroads at this point in his young NFL career.
Having lost a depth-chart battle his first year in the pros to another Niners rookie a year ago, Elijah Mitchell, Sermon ultimately found himself towards the back end of head coach Kyle Shanahan’s priority list throughout the bulk of 2021, which cast some serious doubt on whether or not San Francisco was justified using a Round 3 NFL Draft pick on the former Ohio State tailback, long before Mitchell was drafted in Round 6.
And while there were some modest flashes early in the season for Sermon, by year’s end, he was something of a forgotten commodity.
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Sermon got two starts early in the year in the wake of injuries to Mitchell and now-Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert, yet Shanahan opted to feature Mitchell and fellow running back Jeff Wilson Jr. much more during the latter half of the year to the point where Sermon didn’t see the field at all for the final six games of the regular season and the 49ers’ first two playoff games.
Not exactly a hefty endorsement.
Heading into 2022, it’s safe to assume Sermon is in a place where he doesn’t want to be: Shanahan’s doghouse.
And while it might be premature for the Niners to give up on their third-round draftee prematurely, he’ll want to make sure he sets himself right entering 2022.
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It’s going to be difficult for Sermon to usurp Mitchell on the depth chart this season, but that doesn’t mean San Francisco lacks a clear-cut role for the former. And even though Mostert is no longer in the picture, Sermon still faces some hefty competition to assert himself as high as possible.
A sense of urgency should matter here, and it isn’t as if Sermon lacked production at the collegiate level, helping carry the Buckeyes during their playoff run into January of 2021. Additionally, when Sermon was at Oklahoma, his 947 rush yards and 13 touchdowns stood out.
Decisiveness was one apparent element lacking in Sermon’s game his rookie season, yet a full year to digest this shortcoming in tandem with additional tutelage from the 49ers’ new running backs coach, Anthony Lynn, spells a new context in which Sermon might actually turn a serious page.
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Netting a mere 167 rush yards in year one isn’t promising by any means, and the fact the Niners didn’t rely on him much at all during their playoff run doesn’t bode well for his immediate future.
The aforementioned decisiveness, or lack thereof, might not be an aspect Sermon simply “turns on” his second year in the NFL, and there’s a scenario in which San Francisco might not give him much of a chance anyway.
A big reason is due to the 49ers using another third-round pick on a running back in this year’s draft, LSU’s Tyrion Davis-Price, who might have been considered a reach but still testifies to the notion that the Niners aren’t sold on Sermon going forward.
Should Davis-Price wind up receiving more attention in training camp and into the regular season, Sermon likely stays in the doghouse, a place that can be difficult to emerge from.
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We can probably look at Davis-Price’s addition as a threat to Sermon’s role but not necessarily to his roster spot in 2022.
San Francisco isn’t likely to completely give up on Sermon just yet, and considering Shanahan has dealt both with running back injury attrition and prefers to use a committee approach anyway, the 49ers surely seem poised to retain Sermon as a reserve at the very least.
In this regard, he might still be on the bubble but at least on the stronger side of it. What counts is where he’ll fall on the depth chart.
Mitchell might not start much, as Shanahan typically features his explosive running backs later in games, and Davis-Price could get the nod here. However, Sermon may want to be the 2022 rookie’s chief competitor, and at best, it’s theoretically possible the second-year pro emerges victorious in that camp competition.
At a minimum, though, Sermon has to beat out depth rushers like Wilson, JaMycal Hasty and undrafted rookie Jordan Mason to ensure his spot.
Doing the latter would be an improvement over his 2021 campaign, but Sermon can’t be satisfied at just stopping there.