Christian McCaffrey proves Kyle Shanahan, 49ers spend on RBs

Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Christian McCaffrey #23 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

While Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers have a reputation for being cheap at running back, Christian McCaffrey now proves fully otherwise.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan comes with a reputation, one that states he’s able to identify hidden-gem running backs and turn them into household names, or at least that’s the thought.

It’s something the Shanahan coaching tree has done before, too, and the Niners’ head coach has certainly had success identifying and then deploying otherwise unknown rushers. In 2018, a second-year pro and former undrafted free agent, Matt Breida, led San Francisco in rushing. A year later, a special teams ace Shanahan inherited, Raheem Mostert, not only dominated for the 49ers on the ground during the regular season, but Mostert essentially carried Shanahan’s offense into the Super Bowl, too.

Then, in an injury-plagued 2020 campaign, it was Jeff Wilson Jr. who came out of nowhere as another former UDFA and led the Niners in rushing.

It is true that Shanahan does have a reputation for turning no-name players into rushing standouts. However, San Francisco’s blockbuster acquisition of former Carolina Panthers All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey just prior to the 2022 NFL trade deadline seems to spit in the face of that reputation.

Until you realize that reputation was false, to begin with.

Kyle Shanahan used major assets on running backs before, not just Christian McCaffrey

Just because Shanahan has had success with running backs like Breida, Mostert and Wilson doesn’t eliminate the reality of the 49ers head coach going after big names.

The Niners signed running back Jerick McKinnon to a four-year, $30 million deal in 2018, but McKinnon spent two of those seasons on injured reserve with an ACL tear and only suited up with the team on the field in 2020.

In 2019, Shanahan was tied to running back Le’Veon Bell after his notable years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And while that didn’t pan out, San Francisco nevertheless reunited Shanahan with one of his notable contributors with the Atlanta Falcons, veteran rusher Tevin Coleman.

Coleman and McKinnon had varying degrees of success with the 49ers, and to add another later of just how much Shanahan will do to find a running back, look at the Niners’ two third-round NFL Draft pickups of tailbacks Trey Sermon and Tyrion Davis-Price in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

Granted, neither was a first- or a second-round pick, but Round 3 pickups are nevertheless substantial.

Kyle Shanahan, 49ers were willing to be aggressive for Christian McCaffrey

Despite the fact Shanahan has been willing to spend assets on big-name running backs, he still carries that reputation, one that Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer described earlier this week:

"I can remember, like Shanahan can, when the offense his dad, Mike, ran seemed to pull 1,000-yard rushers off an assembly line in Denver, from Terrell Davis to Olandis Gary to Mike Anderson to Reuben Droughns and Clinton Portis. The trend continued for Kyle with guys such as Arian Foster and Alfred Morris."

Tack on the Breidas and Mosterts of San Francisco’s world, too.

However, Breer asked Shanahan why McCaffrey would be in a different league, at least in terms of the 49ers being willing to execute such a blockbuster trade despite prior investments and reputations.

Shanahan’s response was both simple and telling:

"With Christian, more than anything, it’s not just like adding a running back. It’s adding a Pro Bowl offensive player. That’s how I see Deebo [Samuel]. I mean, Deebo’s definitely a receiver. But it’s what he does for our offense—whatever’s needed based off what other teams are doing. And I think Christian’s real comparable in that way. We have had some success with backs that aren’t real high draft picks or aren’t necessarily what people would vote as Pro Bowlers.But when you do get one of those backs, it’s a big difference."

Putting it bluntly, Shanahan and the Niners won’t hesitate to go after a player if they deem him worthy of such an investment, and it’ll take place even if San Francisco has already spent considerable draft capital on rookie rushers over the last two seasons.

Read More: Twitter reacts to Christian McCaffrey going off vs. Rams in Week 8

So far, it’s been a small sample size for McCaffrey’s impact with the 49ers. But that’s a dominant one, especially by looking at the three-touchdown performance (one on the ground, one through the air and one passing) the Niners’ new shiny offensive toy put together against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8.

Those performances might not happen on a weekly basis, of course, but the possibility of them happening is going to be there for a long, long time.

And with McCaffrey under contract through 2025, the trade isn’t a short-term fix either.

Shanahan certainly understood that, too.

Next. Ranking 49ers' 10 best trades in franchise history. dark