The 49ers have made enough investments around quarterback Brock Purdy to ensure he’s set up to succeed. But none may be more critical to the team’s success than running back Christian McCaffrey. This running back also caught 52 passes in half a season, with limited knowledge of the playbook.
It’s reasonable to assume McCaffrey will go over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in his first full season with the Niners. Head coach Kyle Shanahan had an entire offseason to come up with more ways to get McCaffrey the ball, while CMC had plenty of time to master Shanahan’s playbook.
The results will come, but the 49ers can’t overlook McCaffrey’s injury history. The team has taken care of their star running back during the offseason and throughout training camp, as McCaffrey has consistently had maintenance days off each week.
ESPN’s Dan Graziano believes the 49ers will ease up on McCaffrey’s workload during the regular season:
San Francisco will still take McCaffrey off the field more than Carolina did and use Elijah Mitchell and/or Tyrion Davis-Price in spots, because the Niners know McCaffrey’s injury history and want to avoid overloading him. But the efficiency he should be able to attain in a full season in Kyle Shanahan’s system could be enough to propel McCaffrey to new career-best numbers.
While that’s the plan heading into the season, it’s a lot easier said than done. Shanahan will be tempted to give McCaffrey the ball every series, oftentimes more than once. And how could you blame him? McCaffrey proved to me a matchup nightmare in this offense a season ago.
The team’s ability to rest McCaffrey will be dependent on the other backs. Will Elijah Mitchell stay healthy for half a season? We don’t have any evidence of that, which has to be frustrating for the 49ers as Mitchell averaged over six yards per carry last season with a 73 percent success rate, but it was only on 45 attempts.
Davis-Price’s rookie season was a disappointment. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry with a 38 percent success rate. TDP’s teammates say he’s turned the corner heading into his second season. We’ll see if the preseason hype comes to fruition in the regular season.
Then, there’s the wild card, Jordan Mason. He’s built to finish games when you have the lead. That’s a role where the 49ers can afford to have McCaffrey sit on the sideline and not take the punishment when everyone in the stadium knows you’re going to run the ball.