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There is no need to mince words with this question. The 49ers running back depth is significantly better in 2019 than it was in 2018.
Much like the 49ers themselves, the 2018 running back corps was a mixed bag of hype, injury, success and disappointment. Jerick McKinnon was lost for the season to a torn ACL before ever taking a meaningful snap forcing head coach Kyle Shanahan to “drastically” alter the offense. Matt Breida was able to blossom into a legitimate number one option out of the backfield while averaging 5.3 YPC but fought his own injury bug. The rest was a combination of an over-the-hill Alfred Morris, perennial special-teams ace Raheem Mostert and undrafted free agent Jeff Wilson with their own ups and downs.
Breida is entering his third year with the 49ers, and last season he proved to be the ideal fit for Shanahan’s outside zone scheme. His speed allowed him to get to the edge and burst through even the smallest of holes opened by the offensive line, routinely getting to the second and third levels of the defense. Breida did suffer a small tear of his pectoral muscle during offseason workouts, however, he should return in time to participate in training camp. Without question, nagging injuries plagued Breida’s excellent 2018 and will continue to hamper his production until he can remain healthy.
Two running backs will be returning from more severe injuries than anything Breida suffered in 2018. Jerick McKinnon has spent that last nine months rehabbing his torn ACL while Raheem Mostert is recovering from the time his arm bent into too many different angles at once. McKinnon’s presence reopens a large portion of the playbook that had to be reformed after Shanahan lost the receiving threat McKinnon presented to opposing defenses. Mostert, on the other hand, proved to be a very serviceable backup while still maintaining his special-teams prowess. Memorably, he ran for a 52-yard touchdown with rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey leading the way against the Raiders. He will be welcomed with open arms when he is healthy enough following the arm surgeries from this offseason.
The 2019 running back room not only welcomes McKinnon and Mostert back from injury but has also seen the addition of former Atlanta Falcons RB Tevin Coleman. Under Shanahan’s tutelage in 2016, Coleman’s most successful season included 941 total yards to go along with 11 total touchdowns. For a frame of reference, Breida and McKinnon have 10 touchdowns in their entire careers combined. Coleman’s knowledge of the offense will allow him to seamlessly transition despite playing with an entirely new team.
The biggest difference to this group of running backs is indeed the depth as this is the deepest position on the entire roster. Last year, Matt Breida was forced to play through issues that persisted throughout the season because they were not given the chance to fully heal. That is no longer the case. With four quality running backs in the stable, the team is afforded the opportunity to rest any running back who may not be ready to go. All told, Kyle Shanahan is going to be able this group in ways no one has seen from the 49ers in many years.
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