A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers signed free agent fullback Kyle Juszczyk to a contract that more than doubled the next fullback. When the team introduced him, John Lynch said he was more of an offensive weapon than a fullback. The OW tag stuck, and while he is still a pricey fullback, he was a dynamic presence in the passing game.
Last month, the 49ers signed running back Jerick McKinnon to a contract that surprised some folks. The total potential value ranks fourth among running backs, and he received $11.7 million in guaranteed money for 2018.
Kyle Shanahan laughed at the owners’ meeting when asked if McKinnon could be viewed in a similar “offensive weapon” as Juszczyk. Shanahan said he has given Lynch some grief about that term, but he also recognizes the value that having McKinnon and Juszczyk can provide. More importantly he sees value in having players at all the skill positions who can create mismatches. He described the NFL as a match-up based league, and the 49ers are adding players who can move around and do different things than one might traditionally expect from a given position.
“I’m very excited. It gives you a lot of options. I think everyone — we added a running back, but we also added receivers, to me, tight ends in the fact that you use these guys the same way. We do that with Juice also. When you get to third down, you look for matchups. It’s not always the receives on the outside. Sometimes it’s the slot receiver, sometimes it’s the running back running the exact same route from the backfield that Trent Taylor runs from the slot, that Kittle runs just off the tackle. They’re all similar routes, it’s what’s your better matchup. When you have slot receivers, t right ends, running backs, fullbacks, all of who can do those routes, it’s all the same think for your quarterback. It’s all the same thing for the play calls. It’s just who has the matchup that gives you more options for moving the chains.
“I think it’s a matchup-based league, and you want your explosive players — especially, I always look on the outside with receivers, with the play action and the first and second down, that you’re gonna have a run game and you’re gonna have deep passes off of that; you need speed, which we have with ‘Quise and Pierre on the outside. But when you get to third and down and you’re in more of a drop back deal, it’s just about matchups. And when you have guys like you mentioned, that’s how you use them because you can put them anywhere on the field. They always are running backs, but you can put them anywhere on the field that makes people honor them. And you’ve got linebackers and safeties covering guys in space that they struggle to do.”
The 49ers might joke about the notion of the “offensive weapon,” but the addition of McKinnon gives them that much more versatility. He will get a lot of touches in a traditional running back mold, but opposing defenses won’t be able to sit fully run when he is in the game. The 49ers offered plenty of unpredictable behavior last year, and this only adds to it as they prepare for Jimmy Garoppolo’s first full season as starting quarterback.