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Can Tyrion Davis-Price be the running back the 49ers hoped for?

The 49ers 2022 third-round pick has received plenty of love during training camp. But can he live up to the hype during the regular season?

NFL: Washington Commanders at San Francisco 49ers Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Until the blockbuster arrival of Christian McCaffrey, the 49ers running back position had been a revolving door of fast fashion in the Shanahan era.

Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr. were all picked from the undrafted clearance rack. Each back enjoyed success in Kyle Shanahan’s system (Mostert, most notably), but each struggled mightily to stay on the field.

Currently, Elijah Mitchell carries the same designation–a sixth-round steal whose injury report reads longer than his stat sheet. As of writing this article, he’s currently been shelved with an adductor strain. This is Mitchell’s second injury of the offseason and the 49ers have yet to play their first preseason game.

Enter Tyrion Davis-Price.

One year after the Niners took a big swing-and-miss on Ohio State running back, Trey Sermon, in the third round, the Niners’ 2022 third-round selection of LSU running back Davis-Price was perplexing. If anything was clear, it was the signal that Sermon’s days in San Francisco were numbered.

Price’s rookie season was lackluster at best: 34 carries, 99 yards, and a handful of games where he was a healthy scratch from the active roster. After returning from an ankle injury sustained in Week 2, Price was eclipsed by undrafted rookie Jordan Mason on the depth chart.

If Trey Sermon serves as a cautionary tale, it’s that the 49ers will quickly move on from backs that don’t produce. In a room that features McCaffrey, Mitchell, and upstart Jordan Mason, Price entered the 2023 offseason with his back against the wall.

Thus far, he’s responded well to the pressure.

Davis-Price has been one of the top highlights of 49ers training camp. Reporters and coaches have lauded his much improved performance and conditioning, including run game coordinator, Chris Foerster, who described Davis-Price as “a man on a mission.”

There are plenty of mouths to feed in the San Francisco backfield but remember:

  1. This is a run-heavy offense
  2. Durability has been a constant issue for the team
  3. The Niners nearly ran McCaffrey into the ground last season, which they absolutely cannot continue to do to their greatest offensive weapon if they want to keep him effective and healthy

As mentioned, Mitchell is currently sidelined. While it’s only a minor adductor strain, if history is any indication, it’s reasonable to anticipate him missing time this season. That opens a large window of opportunity for Mason and Davis-Price. Mason has already demonstrated his talent on the field last season, so that gives him an edge over Davis-Price. However, he’s had a propensity for fumbling, a massive no-no in any offense and the fastest way into Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse.

Furthermore, Mason and Davis-Price have very different skillsets. Mason is more of a bruiser who can get tough yards between the tackles. Davis-Price has the ability to be explosive on the edge and has shown it in camp. In his limited action last season, he was hesitant to hit the holes. If he can be more decisive in his running in 2023, he has the chance to be a valuable asset. Blocking and receiving out of the backfield are also going to be critical criteria in evaluating Davis-Price this year.

Unless Mason’s fumble woes continue or an injury occurs, it will be difficult for Davis-Price to unseat him in the offseason. Still, that doesn’t mean Davis-Price can’t carve a role for himself and earn carries.

The 49ers carried six backs on their 53-man roster in 2022, so it stands to reason they’ll carry five or six again this year. Davis-Price has already done enough to lock down a spot. Where he goes from here and how he plays in preseason games will be fun to watch in the coming weeks.