The 49ers had a brutal run of injuries to their running backs last year, beginning with the September 1 ACL tear of lead back Jerick McKinnon. Every running back on the roster missed games, creating room for several substitutes— including UDFA Jeff Wilson, Jr., who was promoted to the roster late in the season and succeeded until he, too got hurt.
As a result, the team signed Tevin Coleman to join their returning (and hopefully healed) backs, making their running back room one of the deepest in the NFL — at least if you like dual-threat, fast-more-than-sledgehammery runners suited to this outside zone scheme. Then they held rookie tryouts, and the only player they signed was Rice running back Austin Walter.
Age: 22 (turns 23 on August 17)
Experience: Rookie UDFA
40-yard dash: 4.49 (at his regional combine)
3-cone drill: 6.75
Walter signed a three-year, $1,755,000 contract with no guaranteed money whatsoever. His salary this year is $495,000 if he makes the team, and zippo if he doesn’t. The team risks nothing.
What to expect in 2019
Walter certainly fits the dual-threat type that Shanahan and Lynch like. He gained over a thousand yards last year for Rice, almost evenly split between pass receptions and runs from scrimmage. He also returned kickoffs for Rice, averaging 27.3 yards per return.
Odds of making the roster
The odds are very slim, unless there are even more injuries this training camp than there were last year. It’s a good sign he was signed after a tryout, but let’s be realistic: he is competing with Jeff Wilson, Jr. for a spot on the practice squad.
Wilson did very well running last year but fumbled in three consecutive games and did not return any kicks, so ball security and special teams will be Walter’s best chance of taking away Wilson’s practice squad slot.