Here is a hot take: Jeff Wilson was never the “worst” option at running back when he was active for the San Francisco 49ers last year. Wilson is a cut below Raheem Mostert on the Niners running backs totem pole, but after that, I could argue he was the next best option. I’ll do that now. Instead of looking at yards per carry, Wilson’s was 3.9; look at each running back’s success rate or DVOA to give you a better idea of what each runner brought to the table and how they performed in a specific situation.
Here is a look at each running backs DVOA and success rate last season:
- Mostert- DVOA 26.8%, success rate 53%
- Wilson-DVOA 20.3%, success rate 52%
- Breida- DVOA -1.8%, success rate 46%
- Coleman- DVOA -15.3%, success rate 39%
For fun, Deebo Samuel’s DVOA, when he carried the ball, was 107.6%, which, wow.
Anyway, Wilson was on a limited sample size, so that must be taken into account. As a runner, his vision is superior to Breida and Coleman, and that’s why Wilson had more success on the ground. Wilson isn’t going to blow you away with game-breaking speed like the other three backs, but he’s far from slow. Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner have a level of trust in Wilson as they were confident enough to play him as the “receiving back” in the Super Bowl over any other runner.
Age: 24 (turns 25 on November 16)
Experience: Two accrued seasons
This is the final year of Wilson’s contract. His cap number is $750,000, though none of that is guaranteed. Wilson will be a restricted free agent in 2021.
Odds on making the roster
You forget how young Wilson is. Whenever there is a new shiny toy (JaMycal Hasty and Salvon Ahmed), it seems like fans are quick to overlook what is already on the roster. Wilson is a better runner than both of them, though Hasty provides more after the catch than Wilson does. Wilson was known for fumbling, but he held onto the ball last year in limited action. It’ll come down to whether he can beat out Hasty for the final spot. As much as I’ve talked up Wilson so far, Hasty is a superior Special Teamer, and that will give him a leg up.
I’ll give Wilson a 57% chance to make the roster.
What to expect in 2020
When you watch Wilson compared to the other backs on the team, he knows how to stay on track and keep his runs “north and south.” His 25-yard run against the Packers is a perfect example.
If Wilson is is free from his fumbling issues of the past—in 2018, he fumbled in three consecutive games—then he could carve out a role as RB3 for the Niners. Wilson needs to outperform the UDFA’s, and show that he can bring more to the table than Jerick McKinnon.