Last week, I asked people for their predictions as to what Jerick McKinnon will accomplish in 2018. It’s too early to say anything with certainty, particularly given the lack of starting experience in his background. But it can be fun to throw out some early predictions that we can adjust when training camp arrives.
Former NFL running Maurice Jones-Drew works as an analyst for NFL Network, and he put together predictions for the various running backs that have changed teams this offseason. The San Francisco 49ers added Jerick McKinnon to replace Carlos Hyde, who left for the Cleveland Browns. MJD thinks McKinnon will have more success, while Hyde will have less success. He also offered up a prediction for old friend Frank Gore.
Prediction: 200 carries, 1,000 yards, 10 rush TDs; 60 rec., 600 yards, five rec. TDs.
McKinnon’s 2017 campaign set him up to become a feature back in San Francisco. The 25-year-old racked up 991 scrimmage yards on just 201 touches in Minnesota, proving he can be utilized between the tackles, on third down and in the passing game. McKinnon’s going to blow last year’s production out of the water in his first season in the Bay Area. Expect Kyle Shanahan to use him in every way, shape or form, and make sure McKinnon is in the best situations to create mismatches.
There is no doubt McKinnon will end up with greater raw numbers than he has previously had. This will be his first opportunity to be the undisputed lead back for a team. Matt Breida, Joe Williams, and/or anybody else the team adds will get their share of work, and I don’t expect McKinnon to be a traditional workhorse back. However, he will get enough work to put up some big numbers. It would certainly be something if he averaged 5.0 yards per carry like MJD suggests, but he’ll get the opportunity.
A lot of Hyde’s success will depend on who Cleveland takes in the draft. Sure, the Browns paid Hyde in free agency, but they still look poised to draft a running back. If Hyde is Cleveland’s RB1, he’ll be a solid first- and second-down guy, in which he should accrue similar numbers to his 2017 campaign. The addition of Tyrod Taylor will help immensely because the defense must account for the quarterback’s ability to run. None of this will matter, though, if the Browns take the most talented player in the draft, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. In that case, Hyde’s touches will be few and far between.
MJD should have offered two predictions for Hyde — one if the Browns draft Barkley, and one if they do not spend a first round pick on a running back. If they do draft Barkley, I don’t think Hyde will see little work as MJD suggests. But if the Browns do add Barkley, how do you see them splitting the carries?
Prediction: 150 carries, 700 yards, six TDs.
The Dolphins will limit the soon-to-be 35-year-old in his 14th NFL season and lean on Kenyan Drake as their featured back. That shouldn’t surprise many, as Drake is younger and has more in the tank (sorry, Frank). Along with taking on a leadership role, Gore will be utilized as a pass blocker and out of the backfield in Adam Gase’s offense. Yet Drake’s injury history might allow Gore to get an opportunity to start several games in the middle of the season to bulk up his numbers.
I agree with MJD that Gore will be a complementary back to Kenyan Drake. If Drake is healthy, he’s the guy who showed he could replace Jay Ajayi. I disagree with MJD on his statistical predictions. Gore could end up with 150 carries, although I suspect it would end up a little less than that. But either way, I don’t expect to see him averaging 4.6 yards per carry as that prediction would suggest. Gore averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2012, and since then his highest ypc is 4.3. Maybe a lighter load opens up a bigger ypc, but I would be surprised by that.