This time last year, Jerick McKinnon was a shiny new toy heading into training camp for Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers. Shanahan said right after McKinnon’s injury that the team had been game planning for McKinnon since the day they signed him. McKinnon is a fascinating player. He’s set up to have his best season simply because this will be the best offensive situation he has played in during his career. That’s factoring in who is calling the plays, his quarterback, schedule, and the players surrounding him.
Will he play at a level where Shanahan has no choice to give him at least 15 touches a game? That’s something we’ll find out over the next couple of months. For now, here’s the biggest hope and fear for McKinnon headed into the 2019 season.
McKinnon’s speed is unreal. The hope should be to throw him the ball in space and let him eat up a bunch of yards quick. He’s going to break a handful of his touches for a significant gain on the strength of being faster than the player who has an angle on him. The hope for McKinnon should be right around 50 catches this season. Get him the ball on a slip screen, or even on a check down, and let McKinnon get five yards here and there. Those fives will turn into chunk plays thanks to McKinnon’s athleticism.
As far as handing the ball off to McKinnon, get him to the edge. He’ll have the opportunity to cut back for a big gain. He’s also demonstrated the patience necessary for long runs. On the run below, McKinnon lets his blockers do the work, finds a crease, and that’s all she wrote.
Clear out space for McKinnon and let him get easy yards underneath to keep your offense ahead of the chains. That’d be my hope for him in 2019, to be a significant role player.
McKinnon is coming off an ACL injury, so the biggest concern would be shaking off the rust, aside from another injury. Getting acclimated to the game again might take some time. Every player is different. If we are talking about on the field, my biggest fear when watching McKinnon is his creativity in the open field or when he’s 1-on-1 with a defender. McKinnon can get to top speed in a hurry and runs with a low center of gravity. That helps him get past arm tackles by defensive linemen at the first level. This issue is making someone miss.
If you check out his touches when McKinnon was with the Vikings, you’ll see a lot of him running full speed straight ahead without much “wiggle.” Sometimes just right into the defender. That can be coached out of players. I’ve seen players grow and evolve. That’s my biggest fear with McKinnon. He’ll have plenty of opportunities in space, but will he be able to maximize those touches? If he’s “leaving meat on the bone,” we’ll be seeing more Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida.