Looks like the injury bug hasn’t escaped the 49ers just yet. Before the season even began, projected starter Jerick McKinnon was injured and out for the season with a torn ACL. This past weekend against the Cardinals, budding star Matt Breida went down with an ankle injury.
“[RB Matt] Breida, he’s not going to practice on Thursday,” head coach Kyle Shanahan explained to the media on Monday. “It was positive news. It wasn’t a high ankle sprain, but it’s still definitely a serious sprain. So, probably end up being doubtful this week.”
With McKinnon and Breida sidelined, that leaves running backs Alfred Morris and Raheem Mostert still healthy on the game-day roster. I suspect that Shanahan will want to add a third running back to that mix for this Monday’s game in Green Bay.
San Francisco brought in free-agent running backs Shane Vereen, Charcandrick West, Andre Ellington, Matthew Dayes, and Jeremy McNichols, per ESPN’s Field Yates. While they continue to look outside the building for a potential filler running back, I believe the answer’s within the building on the practice squad — Jeff Wilson Jr.
Wilson Jr. is a true dual-threat rookie out of North Texas. During his four-year collegiate career, he rushed for 3,206 yards and 32 TDs, while also catching 70 passes for 527 yards out of the backfield. He’s flashed some potential in the preseason and deserves the third spot behind Morris and Mostert.
Against the Houston Texans, Wilson Jr. had one of his biggest runs of the preseason, bursting through the offensive line, gaining six on the play. His decision-making behind the line of scrimmage is decisive and has the speed to burst into the secondary.
Wilson Jr.’s not only a runner out of the backfield, he’s also able to line up outside like a wide receiver and become a matchup nightmare against a linebacker. He’s able to easily get open on this play, allowing 49ers’ quarterback Nick Mullens to make a simple completion for a first down. After the injuries, Wilson Jr.’s the only running back that’ll be able to line up outside and spread the defense out.
Now against the Colts, Wilson Jr. shows off his ability to switch into the next gear, gaining seven yards on this simple run play.
This next play highlights Wilson Jr.’s ability to make a quick cut back and decisive move away from defenders and towards an open hole. It seems like the defender should make the tackle, yet Wilson Jr. is able to escape and turn it into a positive gain.
This was probably the rookie’s worst run of the preseason, running straight ahead right into the defense for only a gain of two yards on the play. There wasn’t many rushes like this, but against starting defenses, I expect to see Wilson Jr. go through a learning curve and struggle for a bit.
Injuries typically break the chemistry on a team, but in certain cases, it provides the opportunity for players to showcase their talent on the big stage. Hopefully, Wilson Jr. gets carries against the Packers on Monday Night Football to display his abilities — especially against a leaky Green Bay run defense.