The 49ers have two running backs entering their second year in Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon. The team also has a pair of veterans that are unrestricted free agents in Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.
The way Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel spoke about the value of running backs during his media availability Wednesday; it would be an upset if either Wilson Jr. or Mostert didn’t reunite with McDaniel — although general manager John Lynch said the Niners are interested in re-signing Mostert if the price is right.
Lynch spoke to the media at the NFL Combine Wednesday, and the running back room came up:
“Yeah, Elijah came in and had an unbelievable year and we call him Draino because he always finds the right gap. It’s kind of like putting the Draino down the drain and it just finds it. That’s what we call him because of his natural run instincts.
He showed a ton of toughness because he battled some. They weren’t significant, I guess they’re always significant injuries, but things that he could play through and he did. He kept showing up and the kid is going to be a really good football player.
We believe the same for Trey. Trey, I think, had to make an adjustment to how you run in the NFL. And I think that’s natural for rookies and got in a situation where Elijah was playing a lot as the season evolved, Deebo became a big part of what we were doing.
We also had [RB] Jeff Wilson [Jr.] once he got healthy and [RB] Raheem [Mostert] at the start, so it was a crowded room. But Trey is someone we’re really excited about, as we are with Elijah and we like our depth in that room and it’s not bad to be able to turn to Deebo when you need a play or two, so.”
Without McDaniel or Bobby Turner, the 49ers will likely turn to assistant head coach Anthony Lynn to help their running game schematically and develop the young running backs. Both Mitchell and Sermon have specific areas of their game they can clean up.
I cannot wait to see how each runner is deployed next year. Will Sermon continue to be an afterthought, or will he have a role on offense? As impressive as Mitchell was for a rookie, he fought through multiple injuries that wound up sidelining him for six games. The Niners may need Sermon’s services by default.
Lynch’s comments about Sermon’s running style stood out pretty quickly against the Packers back in Week 3. However, based on the way Kyle Shanahan was calling the game, you could tell the trust level wasn’t there.
Too often, Sermon would tippy-toe to the hole and miss the crease. It seemed as though Sermon turned the corner as he nearly ran for 100 yards against the Seahawks the next week, but that turned out to be a fool’s gold as Sermon would only muster 32 yards on ten carries against Jacksonville.
Mitchell left some meat on the bone himself. The “Drano” nickname was earned but not until later on in the season. But, as Lynch said, being a rookie in this league isn’t easy. The speed of the game is unlike anything these players have seen, even guys like Sermon, who played at the biggest schools in the country.
Both players will have ample opportunities to show off their skills next year. With Trey Lance under center, you’d think there will be more running lanes for each. And while both players have the talent to be an every-down back, I’d still look to bring in a veteran who can pass protect.