The 49ers suffered through a thinning backfield in 2018. Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Alfred Morris all saw significant snaps last season after Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL before the start of the year. Breida battled an ankle injury throughout the season, and Mostert broke his forearm in Week 9, leaving the 49ers no choice but to promote both Wilson and Matthew Dayes from the practice squad.
Despite the turmoil, Bleacher Report believes the 49ers are entering into the 2019 season with the league’s best backfield, and they might be right.
“In today’s league, the best running back stables aren’t filled with potential 1,000-yard rushers,” Maurice Moton writes. “There’s been a shift toward an emphasis on pass-catching ability in the backfield, so the top tailbacks can also rack up receiving yards in the short passing game.”
McKinnon, Coleman, and Breida are all the type of running backs Moton describes, capable of threatening defenses both on the ground or through the air. In 2017, McKinnon’s last full season, he rushed for 570 yards and another 471 receiving for the Minnesota Vikings. Breida totaled 814 yards rushing and 261 yards receiving as the 49ers’ leader in the backfield in 2018. Coleman last season racked up 800 yards rushing and 276 receiving. The trio combined for 19 touchdowns.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk seems to have taken a back seat to the 49ers’ enticing running backs. He’s a critical cog in the team’s success on the ground and added 324 yards receiving and a touchdown on 30 catches last season.
This type of production constitutes an embarrassment of riches for the 49ers and Shanahan’s offense. For comparison, the Seattle Seahawks, who led the league in rushing last season, totaled 2,084 yards between primary rushers Chris Carson, Mike Davis, and Rashaad Penny. They combined for 15 touchdowns. Their impact in the passing game wasn’t as impressive, combining for just 452 yards in 2018.
Given the 49ers’ investment into an impressive backfield, the type of production seen from the Seahawks would be the expectation in San Francisco for 2019. Anything less than a Top 3 rushing offense next season would seem like a disappointment.
The 49ers’ running backs aren’t without uncertainty, however. Will McKinnon’s ACL recovery allow him to finally make his debut with the 49ers at the start of the season? Will injuries continue to dampen Breida’s exciting potential? Will Coleman be able to earn a prominent role amidst steep competition? Will Mostert’s value on special teams force one of those above to be inactive on gamedays?
The answers to these questions will be revealed in time, and how the position unfolds will undoubtedly be one of the key developments throughout the 49ers’ offseason. For now, though, Shanahan must be giddy with the thought of having McKinnon, Breida, and Coleman at his disposal in what is a critical season for him and general manager John Lynch.
What are your thoughts on the 49ers’ stable of running backs? Should they be considered among the best in the league? Sounds off in the comments.