Now that the San Francisco 49ers roster is final, we know who the running backs are. The team elected to roll with Jeff Wilson Jr. over JaMycal Hasty. That was the correct call. Hasty is more of a mismatch as a receiver and presents a bigger threat out of the backfield, but Wilson Jr. is the better runner and, equally as important as receiving, is a superior pass protector. It didn’t hurt that the team didn’t have to play any preseason games, possibly exposing potential big plays from Hasty.
The running back room has plenty of talent, and that’s another reason why Hasty didn’t make the cut. Raheem Mostert is the most talented runner, but will he receive the majority of carries this season? Will Tevin Coleman be used more in the passing game? Will Jerick McKinnon hold up all season? These are all questions I have.
Will Mostert reach 1,000 yards rushing?
Betonline had two props for Mostert. One was Mostert’s rushing yards, which was only 820 yards. The other asked whether Mostert would have eight total touchdowns this year. Both of those numbers seem modest. If Mostert reaches over 150 carries, which feels low, he’d easily surpass 800 yards rushing. I’m hoping Kyle Shanahan relies on Mostert down the stretch and near the red area. If Coleman starts, so be it. That wasn’t the case during practices, so I’d like to think the team has realized who the best back on the team is.
Could Coleman be a difference-maker through the air?
In 2016, Coleman had 484 yards receiving under Shanahan. Of his 38 receptions, 21 of them went for first downs. Coleman would split out wide as a receiver, or motion into the slot. Atlanta had no issue using him down the field, either. Coleman’s production through the air has declined every season since. He’s gone from 314 yards to 276, to only 183 yards last season. In 2018, Coleman had five receiving touchdowns to only one last year. What’s changed? Did Shanahan not trust the protection last year, so he chose to leave Coleman in as a blocker?
If Coleman is going to be on the roster, he has to bring more to the table than what he showed last year. I believe that difference could be through the air. Unfortunately, Coleman has competition there, too.
The almighty McKinnon
Arizona was the fourth-worst team in the NFL last season against running backs through the air, per DVOA. The Cardinals allowed 50 receiving through the air through running backs alone. As we saw with Wilson Jr. on the game-winner last season, the middle of the field is open. I think Wilson is better than he gets credit for, but he’s no McKinnon. Jet has another gear, and his ability to run the full route tree makes him lethal in the 49ers offense. I’d imagine Shanahan has been licking his chops, knowing how he plans to use McKinnon this season.
My guess is after the first couple of weeks of the season, the hype train for McKinnon will be out of control, and deservedly so. If he can stay healthy all season, everyone on the offense benefits.