As the offseason hype was building for the San Francisco 49ers heading into free agency, many believed that second-year general manager John Lynch was going to be aggressive in targeting premier talent. The 49ers were among the top teams in salary cap space even after signing franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February.
The 49ers were predictably linked to most of the marquee names available in free agency. Former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Giants center Weston Richburg were among the list of nearly 10 free agents Lynch inked in the offseason. Surprisingly, the most polarizing of the group wasn’t the former outspoken division rival, but Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon.
The 49ers made McKinnon, who had never truly earned the lead role in Minnesota, the fifth highest paid player at the position with a four-year, $30 million deal. The reactions were predictably varied. So what type of player is coach Kyle Shanahan getting with McKinnon? Let’s take a look.
McKinnon possesses elite speed and acceleration, running a 4.41 40-yard dash in the 2014 NFL combine. In the clip above, he demonstrates his speed and burst from a standing position. The point in which McKinnon catches the ball to the point he is at full speed is impressive and results in a solid gain on 2nd and long.
Here you can see that Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews has a clear jump on the screen but McKinnon’s acceleration wins on this play. He turns what could have been a marginal gain into a touchdown.
Mckinnon is a big play waiting to happen. He’s patient, another invaluable trait for a running back. Once he finds a crease in the defense, McKinnon can easily break off chunk plays with his explosiveness. His straight line speed is elite and if the defender doesn’t take the right angle he makes them pay.
An underrated part of McKinnon’s game is his power. He’s impressively strong for a running back listed at 5’9 and 205 pounds. McKinnon put up a staggering 32 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the 2014 NFL combine. He doesn’t shy away from contact and finishes runs moving forward.
Vision & Patience
McKinnon’s patience behind the line of scrimmage is impressive. While not as good as someone like Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, his ability is above average.
In the clip above he takes a side step, allows the blocks to form and then bursts through the hole for a solid gain.
In this clip the defensive end crashes in causing the the interior gaps to shut. McKinnon stops on a dime and uses fantastic lateral movement to beat the defender to the corner for the first down.
This run is beautiful. It shows everything McKinnon has to offer in one play. His initial movement in the backfield is fluid and without hesitation. He doesn’t take a false step and uses superb vision & patience, again showing his lateral speed to side step twice into the open hole.
Then comes the power and great balance breaking through the first arm tackle. Even before the tackle is completely broken he is looking forward with the stiff arm ready. He finishes the run with pure burst and speed to gain an additional 10 yards.
This is the running back the 49ers paid big money for.
It’s clear that Mckinnon has elite traits. When matched with coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive prowess, it’s easy to see why McKinnon should see great success with the 49ers. He can do everything that is asked of him at a high level and it will show in 2018. The 49ers paid him starter money because he is capable of being the team’s featured back.
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