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The competition for third running back on the 49ers depth chart will be fun to watch

The San Francisco 49ers have quite a few roster questions, and one of the more interesting is the third running back.

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up minicamp and are now five weeks away from the start of training camp. The 90-man roster is just about set, although a transaction here or there would not be entirely shocking. Shortly after the draft we put together a complete roster bubble watch, and now it’s time to re-visit it. The offseason workout program did not lock in most roster spots, but it might give us some hints here and there.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for a while now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we’ll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Additionally, this does not reflect whether or not a player will be traded. Trades can and probably will happen during training camp, but the positioning on this focuses on whether or not they’d be cut.

Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Today, we’ll take a look at the running backs.

Lock: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida
Strong Bubble: Raheem Mostert
Weak Bubble: Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols, Jeffery Wilson
Longshot: None

I find myself in a pickle with the running back position. I did not make any changes compared to my post-draft bubble watch because I’m just not sure how this will shake out. Kyle Shanahan has praised the work Joe Williams has put in, but over five weeks of training camp will provide all sorts of opportunities for Jeremy McNichols and Jeffery Wilson to claim the opportunity.

We know that Jerick McKinnon will be the lead back. I know some people disagree that Matt Breida is locked in at No. 2, but I’m sticking with that. We could very well end up seeing some rotation, but as of now, I would be stunned if Breida did not make the roster. As for Mostert? He was among the team’s special teams leaders, with the units struggling to some degree after he went on IR. Special teams is always tricky in figuring out who will make the roster, thus the listing of him as strong bubble.

The competition for the third running back role is one of the most fascinating to me heading into training camp. Williams would seem to have the lead, but McNichols and Wilson are talented backs who still have time to impress the coaching staff. McNichols and Wilson were both incredibly productive this past year. One of the biggest concerns with Williams is ball security, but that is something mentioned in scouting reports for both McNichols and Wilson. Given where they all currently stand on the depth chart, maybe the one who has the best ball security ends up claiming the job.

It’s hard to guess who is where on the depth chart at this point. They got their OTA and minicamp reps, but putting on pads and getting into contact work will tell us considerably more. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rotation in the second half of the early preseason games, but the 49ers could also decide they want to “stash” Wilson, and thus don’t give him nearly as many snaps. There are a host of ways this could go.

I think we end up seeing Williams make the roster, but I’m not confident enough in that prediction to suggest he is anything more than weak bubble for the time being.