Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Went to the fortune teller
Had my fortune read
I didn’t know what to tell her
I had a dizzy feeling in my head
-Allen Toussaint, “Fortune Teller.” Minit Records. 1962.
Professional football fans have reached a point in the year where 2020 season predictions are finally relevant conversation.
I have no fear of being cast into the eighth circle of Hell for sins of sorcery and fortune-telling and am happy to start looking at the “what-ifs” that are beginning to build before the San Francisco 49ers’ 2020 season.
Over 16 regular-season games in 2019, the 49ers gained 2,305 rushing yards on 498 attempts. The team averaged 144 yards rushing per game and scored 23 ground touchdowns.
The 49ers rushed 263 times to the right side, for 1,459 yards or 5.54 yards per rush. Ninety-eight of these attempts came off the right end, and the 49ers put the ball in the end zone 15 times, gained 33 first downs, and had 20 runs of 10 yards or more off the right edge.
On the left, the team ran 237 times for 1,162 yards, scoring 11 touchdowns and running for 44 first downs.
This year’s 49ers can repeat these statistics and have the second-best run game in pro football. My apologies to you, Dear Reader, but unless quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo turns into a significant running threat, no team will outrush the Baltimore Ravens this fall.
According to Pro Football Focus, sixth-year veteran Raheem Mostert did not start a single game in 2019.
No, not even after a 220-yard, four-touchdown explosion in the 2019 NFC Conference Championship game was enough to earn Mostert a start in Super Bowl LIV.
Yet, despite this clear travesty, Mostert led the 49ers in rushing last season with 772 yards on 137 attempts. He also led the team with 12 rush broken tackles.
Shanahan’s snubbing of Mostert is one of last season’s big question marks. The only reason I can conjure is maybe Shanahan thought his best combination of backs was Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman, with Mostert picking up a few carries throughout a game.
But in a Wally Pipp moment, Mostert took advantage of Coleman’s early injury to earn his stripes as a 49er.
Along with 772 yards rushing, Mostert caught 14 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
Mostert’s greatest skill is reading his offensive line on zone runs, planting his foot in the turf, and bolting upfield. Too many backs try and dance through gaps in the line, rather than read and react.
Mostert will once again lead the 2020 49ers in rushing with at least 900 yards on the ground on 300 carries and ten touchdowns. Expect him to eclipse 200 yards receiving and score a handful of touchdowns.
Veteran running back Tevin Coleman arrived in Santa Clara last spring as a possible savior to help jumpstart the 49ers’ rush attack. He did, after all, gain just over 900 yards rushing and over 400 yards receiving during his first two years in Atlanta in Shanahan’s system.
After returning from an ankle sprain suffered in Week 1, Coleman gained 97 yards and a score against Cleveland in Week 5 – which was slightly overshadowed by Breida’s 114-yard ground performance, which included an 83-yard opening touchdown run to start the game. Coleman also racked up four touchdowns and 105 yards rushing against the Panthers in Week 8.
Coleman still is a dual-threat from the backfield, and he and Mostert make a better one-two punch than Coleman and Breida.
Coleman will surpass 700 yards on the ground this fall and expect at least 300 yards receiving.
Jerick McKinnon’s biggest disappointment as a 49er was the freak knee injury he suffered near the end of training camp in 2018. Unfortunately, he was unable to come back last season and has not taken a regular-season snap since the 2017 NFC Championship Game.
Injuries happen to players, and I’m unclear why fans (or beat writers) are frustrated with McKinnon. I understand the team has not had a single dollar returned on its $30 million investment, but bad things happen to good players. McKinnon has been stuck in a bad situation but can be a contributing back in this year’s offense.
Teams do not have any significant tape on McKinnon in Shanahan’s system, making him an unknown commodity this fall. That reason alone could allow McKinnon to notch 500 yards or more rushing.
While I do not expect McKinnon to be a starter, I do expect Shanahan to work him into the game plan gradually throughout the fall.
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