San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on the final play of Saturday’s practice. He was making a cut in open space, and the non-contact injury resulted in the end of his season before it began. It’s not really fitting to say next man up in this case because McKinnon was seen as a system fit in Shanahan’s offense. Upon getting signed, Shanahan declared him the starter in camp.
That’s just not going to happen.
Following the injury, the 49ers running back depth has some huge concerns. Alfred Morris looked good in a limited sampling, but that was one game against the Indianapolis Colts—not exactly the ideal sample size. To Morris’ credit, he has thrived in Shanahan’s offense when the two were in Washington, which can only mean he’ll have some success. Keep in mind, this was in 2013, and with the five year difference, chances are that playbook has had substantive changes since. It might be a bit easier for Morris to grasp compared to a new player fresh to the offense, but it’s been awhile for Morris and Shanahan’s playbook isn’t the easiest.
Meanwhile, Matt Breida will get a chance to split carries. He knows Shanahan’s playbook having already spent his rookie season with the 49ers. He suffered a shoulder injury against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of the preseason, and was cleared to practice on Saturday. He should be ready to go by Week 1, but the shoulder remains a concern for the time being. Matt Breida had some great plays in 2017, and he’s going to be more depended on with the loss of McKinnon.
And behind those two is Raheem Mostert. Many wondered if he’d even make the team in 2018. Well, he did, but it looked to be for special teams depth. Mostert now is going to be called upon to fill the void and if Breida aggravates his injury, he could be the No. 2 back behind Morris.
Given the above, don’t be surprised if some familiar faces are brought back to the 49ers in the coming days, or some new bodies are tried out. Once healthy, Breida has a great opportunity to show he can shoulder the load as a first-down back. If Morris slows down or is unable to hit the fifth gear like he has in the past, Breida will be picking up the slack. If he can, he’s one of the smartest UDFA signings the 49ers had in 2017. If he can’t, the 49ers are in huge trouble with what was once a powerful backfield.