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The 49ers need 4 running backs, they don’t need Le’Veon Bell and 3 other running backs

When you think of how each person is utilized and their durability, having four running backs makes perfect sense.

When the 49ers were said to be in the hunt for Le’Veon Bell, who would end up with the New York Jets, the first question was, “Huh?” Of course then when it was announced they signed Tevin Coleman, it wasn’t near as head-scratching. In fact, that’s more of a necessity than Bell.

So, what’s the difference?

The 49ers had Jerick McKinnon, who they gave a lot of money to last year, and Matt Breida, who himself had a breakout season. They also had Raheem Mostert, who (at the time) was coming back for at least a year.

All three of those running backs are somewhat similar and by the end of the season, all were on injured reserve.

Tevin Coleman is not Le’Veon Bell. He’s in the vein of those other three mentioned above—a speedy, slippery, pass-catching flash—and he keeps the play calling consistent since that type of playstyle is just what Shanahan would want. Apart from the fact he’s averaged over four yards per carry each of his four years in the league and had over 500 yards in three of them, he also has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system.

The 49ers tried using the traditional bell-cow back with Alfred Morris. They stopped using him as time went on. Now Morris is no Bell, but it’s something to consider—the 49ers just didn’t need that traditional bell-cow player. Do you think Bell, a running back used to getting the lion’s share of the carries is going to be happy when he’s splitting time with Jerick McKinnon? Do you think Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida are going to be happy when Bell is running around with their carries? Would it make much sense to use Bell in that way when McKinnon has that contract? Would it make sense to let Jerick McKinnon walk when they didn’t get a single year out of him to bring in Bell? would you want to cut some of that other talent allocated? To be fair, perhaps McKinnon wasn’t long for the 49ers, but as it stands today, it doesn’t make much sense.

So we’re back to square one: the 49ers have four running backs. Well, three to count on and one in reserve which is Mostert.

All three have similar playing styles and can run Shanahan’s offense. You have McKinnon leading the charge. Someone who Shanahan had to change his gameplans drastically to account for his absence. Tevin Coleman is right behind McKinnon and like the once-starter, can line up in the slot and be used in space. You then have Matt Breida who goes 110 percent on every play and can break free at a moment’s notice. These are the running backs who can run Shanahan’s system, and as we learned last year, putting it all on the shoulders of one may not be the best move.

What happens if one of them gets injured? Dial-up Mostert. And when you’re not using Mostert? If everyone can stay healthy (gee, there’s a novel idea), you at least have one of the best special teams gunners in the league. Mostert’s presence was sorely missed after the Oakland Raiders injury more on special teams than it was for running backs.

And waiting in the wings you have Jeff Wilson Jr. All five of these running backs play in similar styles and can be interchangeable for the copious amounts of run plays Shanahan wants to call. Bell would overlap all of that. Bell turns it to a single three-down back with a compliment. Kind of a waste of talent with Breida and McKinnon spelling him, don’t you think?

Furthermore, if injuries last year taught us anything, the 49ers need all these running backs if they want a prayer of getting through the season. And if they can stay healthy, well, that’s the best definition of the three or four-headed beast we’ve seen in awhile. As I said on Twitter, has anyone heard of the hydra? This allows the 49ers to make their mismatches and keep a consistent backfield, rolling running backs in and out to stay healthy/fresh.

We may never know how involved the 49ers were in Bell’s negotiations, but given the talent they already have in that backfield, the Jets did them a favor. As great of a back as Bell is (and he has been seen as some as a possible candidate to the Hall of Fame), he just doesn’t fit the 49ers, both with what they have at the position currently and what they want to do.

Now we just need to hope these four running backs can stay healthy.