The San Francisco 49ers made six free agency signings this offseason, but three of them were particularly splashy. Richard Sherman was an arch rival and is a likely starter in the secondary, Weston Richburg will take over the center position, and Jerick McKinnon will be the team’s starting running back.
McKinnon has never been a season-long starter, instead getting opportunities primarily as a complementary back and occasionally starting when injuries arise. However, he will get a big opportunity in a Kyle Shanahan offense that could mean huge things for him in both the run and pass game.
One of the questions now is how the team will complement McKinnon. Matt Breida emerged as a solid backup to Carlos Hyde and would be the favorite for additional work. But then there’s Joe Williams. Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner pushed hard for him, and helped convince John Lynch to pull the trigger in the fourth round.
Williams was inconsistent, but did show some solid signs early in the preseason. However, an ankle injury ended up putting him on season-ending injured reserve. Sometimes preseason IR moves are meant to hide a player the team did not want to put on the 53-man roster, but did not want to lose to waivers. That’s not always the case, but it’s something that can occasionally come into play.
Back in March, at the NFL owners’ meeting, Kyle Shanahan said that Williams will need to turn up the urgency this year. Shanahan likes the running back depth chart, and said Williams will need to work to beat guys out in training camp.
Aside from McKinnon, Breida, and Williams, the 49ers running back depth chart includes Raheem Mostert, and Jeremy McNichols. Mostert is primarily a special teams guy, but McNichols could be an intriguing competitor for backup running back time. He had huge numbers in college, and is viewed as more shifty than powerful coming out of the backfield.
The 49ers were mentioned at times in connection with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, but a first round running back seems highly unlikely. But will we see another option brought in to push the room? They don’t exactly have huge commitments in place to Breida or Williams. The team could very well have a McKinnon, Breida, Williams depth chart this fall, but a day three running back pick would not be a surprise. And given the questions surrounding Williams, he is likely on the hot seat whether the 49ers draft a running back or not.