One of the big things to be watching when San Francisco 49ers training camp rolls around will be the progress of second year running back Jordan Mason. Many would say he’s competing for a roster spot, I say he’s competing to be RB2a/RB2b behind Christian McCaffrey. I also think Elijah Mitchell will be in line for the same role and both will offer a relief to the Christian McCaffrey show we are about to experience.
So how do we split those carries up?
The 49ers may want to run a quazi 3-headed beast (where one head is large and does most of the heavy lifting) for running backs. Given all the injuries (and money they syphoned to the position) it only makes sense to not run anyone into the ground unless absolutely necessary. McCaffrey is no doubt going to get the money downs and lion’s share of the carries, but I also see him not doing the work of a hard bell-cow back. The 49ers will want to keep him fresh and not put too much tread on him. When they have Mitchell and Mason on the sideline it’s even better as the former has proven they could be a starting running back in this league and the latter showed some great stuff in their rookie season.
It doesn’t appear like it will be McCaffrey and a ‘running back to give him a break’. It would be logical to put all three running backs in at points in the game to start.
So what split would you give this beast? In 2022 McCaffrey had 72.4% of team snaps. Keep in mind, I tried averaging his numbers with the 49ers. If you factor in his time with the Panthers that number is slightly higher.
Keep in mind, we’re keeping Deebo Samuel out of this conversation. He no doubt is going ripping defenses apart doing the wide back thing, but I think for the same reasons mentioned above, that’s going to be used sparingly and not as much as it has in the past. I’m also not going to be looking at times when all three of the RBs are on the field for whatever crazy reason Kyle Shanahan dials up (because we’re going to see that).
I’d have McCaffrey in on 60 percent of the snaps, no more, no less. He’s too valuable not to use on those. Then put Mitchell and Mason at 20 percent each. Mitchell and Mason are a bit more traditional with Mitchell being a better pass catcher (from what I’ve seen) and that’s where they could be utilized. Mason could take some more traditional run plays. I imagine those two have some packages already planned so McCaffrey isn’t run ragged by Week 6. Their split seems small, but when they hit the field they can basically explode without a hint of exhaustion.
If I’m looking at this right, that would put McCaffrey in the same realm of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (60% in 2022) and and Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (62% in 2022) in percentage of team snaps. Getting up there, but definitely not doing all the work like Saquon Barkley who was on 80% of the team snaps with the New York Giants.
That’s how I see it shaping out for the season, but we’re a long ways away from that. I haven’t even mentioned how Tyrion Davis-Price will factor into it. I imagine with how we’ve seen the position go in previous seasons he’ll be slotting in at some point and this three-headed beast I propose gets retooled where McCaffrey does become a bell cow back again just due to availability. But as it is right now, a three headed beast seems logical with that split.
How would you split the carries up? What do you think keeps McCaffrey fresh and gets attention to the hard work Mitchell and Mason have shown so far?