2021 49ers Roster Preview: Running Back

Raheem Mostert will be the first man up if he is healthy. Beyond that, things are a little unclear.
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With the start of training camp about three weeks away, now would be the perfect time to take a look at every player on the San Francisco 49ers roster, and how they fit with the team heading into training camp.

This series started off on Monday with a look at the quarterbacks. Today let’s take a look at one of the positions that has seen the most change this offseason, running back.

Raheem Mostert

After spending the majority of his first three seasons with the 49ers as a core special teams player, Mostert burst onto the scene in 2019. Despite not registering a start, Mostert would lead the 49ers in rushing with 772 yards and eight touchdowns on 137 attempts during the regular season.

Mostert would move into the starting lineup in 2020, and he would show his signature explosiveness with a 76-yard touchdown reception in the season opener against Arizona, and would follow that up the next week with an 80-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage against the New York Jets.

Unfortunately for Mostert and the 49ers, he would go down with a knee injury during that Week 2 victory in New York and be limited to only six games and 81 carries over the rest of the season.

There is no doubt that when Mostert is healthy he is among the most explosive players in the NFL. And therein lies the rub. Mostert has played a full 16 game schedule just once in his career -- 2019. During that lone fully healthy season, Mostert touched the ball an average of only 9.4 times per game, far below what would be expected of a starting running back.

As the 49ers build for 2021, they will need to find a way to limit Mostert to around 12 touches per game, and even that would be a heavier load than anything he has been able to handle previously

Jeff Wilson Jr

Wilson led all 49ers running backs with 600 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries in 2020. Wilson’s bruising running style gives the 49ers a physical presence in the running game that the other running back on the roster are not equipped for. This physical style has proven to be very effective down at the goal line, which partially explains Wilson’s touchdown totals.

While the first thing that comes to mind with Wilson is his tough running, he has also proven to be a good option out of the backfield in the passing game. During his three seasons with the 49ers, Wilson has hauled in 28 passes for 268 yards and 4 touchdowns, including the game winning score against Arizona in 2019.

The one weakness for Wilson is his ability to hold on to the football. Wilson has fumbled the ball five times on only 247 career touches. This is a big reason why Wilson has found himself down the depth chart for the majority of his time in San Francisco.

Wilson suffered a torn meniscus in late May and the estimated time period for recovery is four to six months. This means that it is likely that he will be placed on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, which means he would miss at least the first six weeks. The 49ers hope that Wilson will still be able to contribute to the team at some point in 2021.

Wayne Gallman II

The 49ers added Gallman during free agency, a move that could prove key due to the injury suffered by Jeff Wilson Jr.

Originally drafted by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, the former Clemson standout has spent the majority of his time sitting behind Saquon Barkley. It should come as little surprise that the two best seasons of Gallman’s time in New York were the season before Barkley arrived, and then in 2020 when Barkley’s season was cut to only two games due to injury.

Gallman set career highs last season with 147 carries for 682 yards and six touchdowns.

Gallman has shown the ability to be both a physical runner and a breakaway threat. His 2.5 yards per attempt after contact in 2020 would have led the 49ers and his long of 60 yards would have been second only to Raheem Mostert.

Trey Sermon

In Sermon, the 49ers are getting the best offensive player from Ohio State in this draft. Sermon has the ability to be a homerun hitter while also being able to run through defenders. He shows terrific contact balance and a style that is very reminiscent of former 49ers running back Frank Gore. Sermon averaged 6.5 yards per carry and 10.1 yards per reception throughout his four-year career, the first three of which were spent at Oklahoma.

Elijah Mitchell

Coming in at 5’11”, 218 pounds with a 4.38 second 40-yard time, Mitchell brings both power and speed to the 49ers. Throughout his four seasons with the Ragin Cajuns, Mitchell split touches with Trey Ragas, but was still able to average 6.2 yards per rush attempt, 12.2 yards per reception, and score 46 touchdowns.

Despite having only 49 receptions during his time at Louisiana, Mitchell has shown the skill to be a very good receiver out of the backfield. With the combination of explosiveness and sure hands, Mitchell could become the dual threat that the 49ers sought when they signed Jerick McKinnon during free agency in 2018.

Mitchell became the third running back added to the 49ers since April 21 who weighs 210 pounds or more, joining Wayne Gallman, and Trey Sermon. This shows a shift in how the 49ers view the position.

JaMycal Hasty

Hasty made the 2020 team as an undrafted free agent out of Baylor, and received his first carry in Week 3 against the New York Giants. During back-to-back victories over the Rams and Patriots, Hasty would carry the ball nine times in each game, gaining 37 and 57 yards, respectively. This productivity, coupled with Coleman going down with an injury early on, would lead to an increase in Hasty’s role the following week in Seattle. In the week eight matchup, Hasty would be limited to only 29 yards on 12 carries.

Two weeks later in New Orleans, Hasty would go down with a broken collar bone and be placed on season ending Injured Reserve.

Kyle Juszczyk

The 49ers re-signed Juszczyk to a 5-year, $27 million contract in free agency. Juszczyk provides the 49ers offense with a player who could line up in multiple places across the formation. On any given play you could find him lined up in the back field, as an H back, as an inline tight end or out wide. This versatility many times would allow Kyle Shanahan the ability to dictate the personnel employed by the defense by forcing them to account for additional blockers.

Juszczyk may see his production increase this season depending on who lines up under center. During his time in San Francisco, Juszczyk has touched the ball less than three times per game.

Josh Hokit

The Fresno State product spent 2020 on the 49ers practice squad. The undrafted free agent played all four years that he was a part of the Bulldog program, and proved himself as a strong blocker in the run game while also showing that he could be a threat to run or catch the ball when called upon as evidenced by his 341 career collegiate touches and 18 touchdowns.

2021 Outlook

Mostert will be the first man up if he is healthy. Beyond that, things are a little unclear.

Look for Gallman and Sermon to battle it out for the spot that Wilson was expected to handle -- the physical and grinding type of runner that can wear down the defense while also having the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. This is the role that the 49ers originally envisioned for Tevin Coleman.

The role of the versatile third-down receiving threat from the backfield will be decided between Mitchell and Hasty. The two have shown the explosiveness and ability to catch the ball to fill the Jerick McKinnon role in the offense. Mitchell may have the advantage in this competition due to his ability to run between the tackles.

The fullback spot will be held down by Juszczyk. The veteran causes matchup nightmares for the defense and, given Trey Lance’s propensity to drop the ball down to his running backs and tight ends, Juszczyk could see the best output of his career. Hokit will likely end up on the 49ers practice squad.