unIt seemed like an innocuous comment at the end of an interview. “You should check out Matt Breida.” This was Jordan Plocher’s suggestion to David and me after a podcast interview. I didn’t think too much of it, and I went back to dreaming of wide zones and competent passing offenses.
Then the 49ers signed Breida as an undrafted free agent. Then David text me and told me this Breida guy looked pretty good. Then David started tweeting clips.
This is the type of athlete #49ers are getting w/ Matt Breida. Making a man miss, reversing field, and getting the corner on an SEC defense. pic.twitter.com/QQRa7pKdeA— David Neumann (@NeumannNFL) May 1, 2017
Which offense was it that was famous for those big wide-zone runs again? pic.twitter.com/OL49Lkt5MX— David Neumann (@NeumannNFL) May 1, 2017
Then I rolled the tape and I saw plays like this.
Matt Breida: Sees the opening on a split zone. Plants foot, great change of direction, and speeds through hole. #49ers pic.twitter.com/EtusVaLPC9— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) May 10, 2017
He looked pretty athletic on tape. So I looked up his pSPARQ score, a composite score that measures athleticism against other NFL athletes. Who did I see at the top?
Being in the 94th percentile of NFL athletes at the running back position only matters if you apply it on the football field. And despite Breida attending a directional school, he still flashed against power 5 schools. In 2015, West Virginia had one of the top rush defenses in the country, and Breida still bulldozed their squad.
Matt Breida’s athleticism and balance translate to a tough running style. Forces two missed tackles near goal line #49ers pic.twitter.com/Ov3RRF5fwq— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) May 10, 2017
Matt Breida: Balance shows up again… #49ers pic.twitter.com/kr7Zhote8S— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) May 10, 2017
Matt Breida: and again #49ers pic.twitter.com/rbgDnl6On9— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) May 10, 2017
Breida is exactly the type of player that Bobby Turner and Shanahan turn into a star. They seem to love unheralded running backs, getting 1,000-yard+ seasons out of five running backs drafted in the 4th round or later (Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Alfred Morris, Devonta Freeman). He has the speed, power, and balance to be a force on zone runs. In 2015 Breida’s breakaway percentage was second to only Dalvin Cook, and he averaged nearly as many yards after contact as Leonard Fournette.
But what about Joe Williams? He is a Shanahan favorite and, you know, the team actually drafted him. Yes, I must concede Williams throws some tire spikes out in front of the Breida bandwagon. But looking at Williams tape you see a player benefitting from a good offensive line and mammoth holes.
Joe Williams - Displays great vision. Plants his foot and explodes through a crease generating additional yards. #49ers pic.twitter.com/Qfhuc8I57R— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) April 30, 2017
The knock on Williams is that he only consistently gains what the blocking provides, and it’s not as if the 49ers offensive line is going to dominate in the trenches this year. This, combined with Turner/Shanahan giving zero craps about pedigree and 49ers assistants saying Breida was the best rookie on the field during minicamp, means there is a greater than Lloyd Christmas chance Breida can make some noise this year.
Yes, 49ers fans have been burned by preseason running back hype before. Thomas Clayton, the original preseason running back hero, dominated for two preseasons before fizzling out after tearing his his ACL. Kory Sheets, the paragon of preseason hype went full Canadian Lebron, took his talents to Saskatchewan, and won a championship.
But this might be the year. This might be the year the KSWOF tradition becomes reality. The Turner-Shanahan-Breida triumvirate may finally cash in on a promise made nearly a 5th grader ago. Oh, and his number is 49?! The savior bears the team’s namesake. So say it with me. All together now: Matt Breida is our future.