The 49ers had a private workout with UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. That’s not the only running back the Niners were linked to. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said the team hosted Texas running back Roschon Johnson on a visit, too.
The 49ers drafted Trey Sermon and Ty Davis-Price in the third round in each of the previous two drafts. Would San Francisco dip their toes in the running back pool on Day 2 for the third year in a row?
Well, when you go throw mock drafts, as we’ve been doing, you’ll notice that Charbonnet and Johnson are both in the third round of the majority of mocks on the internet.
What does this say about how the 49ers feel about the current running backs on the team? Christian McCaffrey is “the guy,” and, to me, the player who makes the Niners offense go. But if the goal is to keep McCaffrey healthy for the playoffs, you don’t want to run the risk of giving CMC 25+ touches in a game.
Unfortunately, Elijah Mitchell hasn’t proven to be reliable, despite Kyle Shanahan’s affinity for Mitchell. Eli runs hard, is fast, gets the tough yards, but his durability is a major concern.
After TDP suffered an injury in Week 2 against the Seahawks, he did not receive meaningful snaps again until Week 16. Davis-Price finished his rookie year averaging 2.9 yards per carry, without logging a single reception.
One area where San Francisco deserves credit is for how quickly they move on from their perceived “mistakes.” It didn’t take long for Sermon to be shipped out. At the time, TDP felt like a replacement for Sermon, while Mitchell was a sixth-rounder.
Jordan Mason, an undrafted free agent from last year’s class, has the ideal skill set to be a closing, bruiser type of back that nobody wants to tackle in the fourth quarter when the Niners have the lead. Mason perfected that role a year ago, averaging six yards per carry on 43 attempts, breaking an impressive seven tackles along the way.
But Mason, much like Davis-Price, didn’t bring anything to the table in the passing game. Could that change for both this upcoming season? Sure, but San Francisco’s interest in multiple running backs suggests they’re looking for a back that’s a proven receiving threat, in addition to being an impact runner.
The potential rookies
Again, it’s more intriguing to figure out why the 49ers are looking into a specific position than to speculate about who they’re looking at. But when you see the traits of the player, it may tell us even more.
Take Johnson, for example. At 219 pounds, he played in 47 of 48 possible games for Texas, and is known for two things: Power and pass protection. Johnson does not go down on first contact and has a habit of falling forward. He had the third-fastest 10-yard split among all running backs at the NFL Combine, tying his teammate, Bijan Robinson.
Johnson’s frame is the ideal build for an NFL running back, although he did suffer a broken hand during Senior Bowl practices, durability wasn’t an issue throughout his career. Trey/Brock/Sam can rest assured they’ll be protected in the pocket, as Johnson is aggressive in pass protection and welcomes incoming blitzers.
Then we have Charbonnet, the 214 pound back whose 10-yard split — this matters more than the 40 as initial burst is more critical than long speed — was two hundredths slower than Johnson’s at 1.54, tying him for seventh among all running backs. Charbonnet’s 37” vertical jump, good for fifth among all backs at the Combine, is a good indicator that he has “juice.”
Unlike Johnson, Charbonnet was the featured back at UCLA. He wasn’t nearly as effective as Johnson in pass protection, but seems like more of a Shanahan runner with his patience, no nonsense style, and the way he runs through arm tackles.