We assumed the 49ers backfield would be crowded heading into Week 1 of the regular season with as many as six capable running backs. Well, that took a hit as NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that running back Jeff Wilson Jr. recently underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Wilson is expected to miss four to six months, which would keep him sidelined through at least the first month of the season. The reason for the extended injury timeline is because Wilson’s meniscus needs to be repaired. If it were a scope or a trim, Wilson would return between 3-6 weeks.
Here’s a look at what the 49ers running back room looks like as OTAs continue:
I doubt San Francisco knew about Wilson’s injury during the draft as The Athletic’s Matt Barrows reported that Wilson just had surgery this week. This will change any 53-man projections as Gallman likely gets the nod while Hasty remains a practice squad/cut candidate.
Wilson had his most promising season during 2020, despite missing four games. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry, with 2.8 of those yards coming after contact. Wilson’s no-nonsense, north and south style of running was the reason nearly a quarter of his carries went for first downs.
Wilson’s injury will open the door for one of the rookie running backs to make a name for himself sooner than expected. One area the 49ers could have gotten more out of their running backs during 2020 was in the passing game.
While Wilson was lauded for his game-winning reception against the Cardinals in 2019, his drop rate last season was an eye-popping 22%. He averaged over ten yards per reception and scored three times, but only 21 of his 133 receiving yards were “air yards.” Plus, he lost two fumbles.
Given Mostert’s recent injury history, that’s even more of a reason for Sermon and Mitchell to get acclimated right away. Both backs are comfortable catching passes out of the backfield.
The big thing for the rookies is knowing where to go in pass protection. Running backs are a big part of the pass blocking schemes in a Kyle Shanahan offense. He didn’t live up to his initial contract, but Jerick McKinnon was an above-average pass protector. We’ll see how the rookies handle that part of the transition to the NFL.