Cheetah and the Jet: Which Running Back Will Lead the Team in Yards?

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

It has been well documented that 2018 was not the year for 49ers and their fans. The injuries of key players led to the Red and Gold getting the second pick in the upcoming draft. The most notable injury was in Week 3 when Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL. But the other notable injury was when Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL just prior to the season staring. This led to the starting of running back Matt Breida, who shocked everyone except probably head coach Kyle Shanahan.

As we enter the 2019 season and McKinnon is once again healthy what can we expect from the two-headed monster? Which running back will come out on top as the lead dog?

In 2016 when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator for the Falcons, his running game was led by the running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. In 2016 both running backs combined for almost 2,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. It was a fantasy football dream if you had either one of them on your roster. But there was still a top dawg: Freeman was the better running back, and Freeman had the most opportunities. In fact, Freeman had nearly twice as many touches as Coleman.

Last season, the 49ers’ ragtag team of running backs managed 2,226 yards and eight touchdowns. I admit the touchdowns were not close at all, but the 49ers did have issues getting into the end zone last season. However, the yards were only off by a couple hundred. If there is one thing Shanahan knows how to do, it’s scheme a running back.

During the fantasy season last year when people were giving their start/sits they would say start the starting running back for the 49ers, whoever it may be. They knew that player was going to deal well because we saw it with multiple backs. In fact, there was even a week when all the backs were injured, and it looked like fullback Kyle Juszczyk was going to be the starting running back. The fantasy community was saying start Juszczyk because they believe in Shanahan.

Before McKinnon tore his ACL, I was pounding the desk in Shanahan fashion: he’s going to have 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns. I said it so many times my phone was predicting it the moment I typed 1,400. McKinnon is healthy, and Shanahan has come out and said McKinnon “is our lead back.”

I am still pounding the desk, 1400 yards and double-digit touchdowns. I expect McKinnon and Breida come close to 2016 Freeman and Coleman. There is no reason to think if healthy they cannot come close to that type of production. With a healthy McKinnon, Breida is no longer the lead guy and hopefully can stay healthy for the entire year if he isn’t taking every snap. Anyone else ready for 2019? I know I am.

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