The San Francisco 49ers made a heavy investment at running back, signing Jerick McKinnon to a deal that includes $11.7 million guaranteed at signing. The 49ers can get out of the deal after the first season with little harm, but they are making a sizable commitment to McKinnon in 2018.
ESPN analyst Matt Bowen recently put together a list of the ten free agents who landed in perfect spots. McKinnon showed up on the list, with Bowen gushing about the kinds of things he can do in Shanahan’s offensive system.
McKinnon’s contract, which includes $12 million guaranteed in 2018, caught me by surprise because he has been in a rotational role with the Vikings since being picked in the third round in 2014. Question the contract all you want, but there’s no reason to question the fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense given McKinnon’s ability as a zone runner and versatility as a receiver in the passing game.
McKinnon caught 94 passes over the past two seasons with the Vikings, and that meshes with Shanahan’s system. Run the angle route, burst to the flat, impact the screen game or remove from the formation to beat a linebacker in coverage. Similar to what we saw from Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman during the Falcons’ 2016 season when Shanahan was calling plays, McKinnon can be that matchup guy out of the backfield for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Once the 49ers roster is settled for training camp, we’ll get into some formal predictions. But in the meantime, I’m curious what kind of baseline people see for McKinnon in 2018. He seems ideally suited for the pass game, but as a potential feature back, he’ll get plenty of work in the ground game.
With all that in mind, I’m curious what kind of initial predictions people have for McKinnon this season, both in the passing and running game. We’ve heard plenty of comparisons to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Just to give you a handle on them, here’s what they did during Kyle Shanahan’s two seasons as the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator:
2015 (16 games): 264 rushes, 1,061 yards (4.0 average), 11 touchdowns — 73 receptions, 578 yards (7.9 average), 3 touchdowns
2016 (15 games): 227 rushes, 1,079 yards (4.8), 11 touchdowns — 54 receptions, 462 yards (8.6), 2 touchdowns
2015 (12 games): 87 rushes, 392 yards (4.5), 1 touchdown — 2 receptions, 14 yards
2016 (13 games): 118 rushes, 520 yards (4.4), 8 touchdowns — 31 receptions, 421 yards (13.6)
By comparison, Carlos Hyde’s 2017 season with Shanahan included 240 rushes for 940 yards (3.9) and eight touchdowns. Through the air, he caught 59 passes for 350 yards (5.9).
McKinnon is getting the biggest opportunity of his career, but nonetheless, here is what his numbers looked like in Minnesota.
2014 (11 games): 113 rushes, 538 yards (4.8) — 27 receptions, 135 yards (5.0)
2015 (16 games): 52 rushes, 271 yards (5.2), 2 touchdowns — 21 receptions, 173 yards (8.2), 1 touchdown
2016 (15 games): 159 rushes, 539 yards (3.4), 2 touchdowns — 43 receptions, 255 yards (5.9), 2 touchdowns
2017 (16 games): 150 rushes, 570 yards (3.8), 3 touchdowns — 51 receptions, 421 yards (8.3), 2 touchdowns
Nobody is going to hold you to these predictions, but I’d be curious what people are thinking right now for what they expect of McKinnon in 2018. Do you see a 1,000-yard rusher? I’d expect an improvement on Carlos Hyde’s yards per catch and rushing average, but it will also depend on what they do with Matt Breida and Joe Williams, and/or potentially any running back they might add in the 2018 NFL Draft.
The high profile portion of free agency is behind us, and Bovada took the time to put together updated Super Bowl 53 odds, and also prop bets on performances for free agents changing teams. For McKinnon, they set the over/under at 750 rushing yards. His work in the passing game will be critical, but what kind of work can we expect in the ground game?
What kind of early prediction do you have?