It's seemingly the same storyline for the 49ers every season at the running back position. Heading into training camp, it's a crowded position group with five or six players competing to make the roster.
Then a few weeks into the season, there are injuries, and a position of strength quickly becomes a thin group that relies on Kyle Shanahan's scheme to bail them out.
Now, a week into this season, running back Elijah Mitchell's out till mid-November, and the 49ers are again thin at tailback. Mitchell was doing a fantastic job toting the rock on Sunday, averaging 6.8 yards per carry, including multiple runs of 10+ yards. But the 49ers will miss their starting running back for at least the next eight weeks.
So without Mitchell in tow, what's the 49ers' plan at running back?
Shanahan could lean on veteran Jeff Wilson Jr. — who averaged a measly 2.4 yards per carry and looked a little slow carrying the ball.
The 49ers' head coach could lean on Ty Davis-Price — the third-round pick this season who didn't dress on Sunday — or Jordan Mason, the undrafted rookie free agent who sneaked onto the roster over Trey Sermon. Both rookies didn't play a snap on offense, and Shanahan seemed to indicate on Monday that it could be because of their struggles without the ball (or pass protection).
Given the juxtaposition the 49ers are in, I think it's time to play their best option at running back, and that's Deebo Samuel. When the "wide back" had the ball in his hands, he was a lethal threat, rushing for 52 yards on eight carries, including a huge touchdown run that inflicted pain on Bears' safety Eddie Jackson.
Samuel was a key cog in the 49ers' rushing attack in 2021 due to a need and lack of depth, and I think the 49ers should rely on him while they bring Davis-Price and Mason up to speed. Shanahan clearly trusts Samuel with the ball in key positions, and he's made defenders look silly over and over again.
I think the use of the split-back motion, bringing Deebo Samuel into the backfield with another back (Kyle Juszczyk, for example) with Trey Lance, has been a preferred formation for Shanahan. It creates different mesh points and running angles that make it even harder for defenses to bring down Samuel.
While the 49ers try to bring along their young backs, I think it's time they lean on the recently-paid wide back to keep their rushing attack afloat early in the season.