A Healthy McKinnon Adds Needed Wrinkle to 49ers Offense
The situation regarding San Francisco’s deep running-back group took a drastic turn on Wednesday. Raheem Mostert’s agent, Brett Tessler, tweeted their disappointment in failed contract talks with the 49ers, and that they’ve requested a trade.
Furious debate ensued about Mostert’s importance to San Francisco. Is he just a product of Kyle Shanahan’s offense? Was the 49ers’ late-season success due to Mostert? Did San Francisco know this was a possibility, and if so, why did they trade Matt Breida?
All are very fair questions and worthy of discussion. Regardless of how the Mostert situation plays out, San Francisco still has plenty of capable running backs.
Veteran Tevin Coleman, breakout candidate Jeff Wilson Jr., electric but oft-injured Jerick McKinnon, and undrafted rookies Salvon Ahmed and JaMycal Hasty all have their pulls and draws, but ultimately complement each other.
Although none have the same quick burst as Mostert to succeed in Shanahan’s power-run offense, one does have the capability to add a new wrinkle.
After two years of season-ending injuries delaying his 49ers debut, McKinnon should reestablish catches out of the backfield, something that’s long been missing for San Francisco.
Shanahan loves utilizing a running back in the passing game, but a lack of personnel prevented that from happening.
In 2016 with Atlanta, likely Shanahan’s best offensive season, both Devonta Freeman (54 catches, 462 yards) and Coleman (31 catches, 421 yards) were exceptional weapons through the air.
The last time a 49ers running back made at least 31 catches in a season was Carlos Hyde (59) in Shanahan’s first season (2017). The last time a 49ers running back had at least 400 receiving yards was Frank Gore (452) in 2010.
That’s a long time for little production, but a healthy McKinnon should remedy that.
Funny enough, Hyde’s impactful receiving season was also McKinnon’s last on the field. His 51 catches for 421 yards in 2017 was why Shanahan jumped at bringing him to San Francisco.
In four seasons, mostly as the third-down back behind Adrian Peterson, McKinnon averaged 35.5 catches a season.
Now in his third season with San Francisco, McKinnon of course has yet to make an impact, but is poised for a big one.
McKinnon excels at wheels, swings, shoots and check down routes, while also possessing the capability to line up outside or make someone miss on screen plays. Despite the long time off the field, his ability to run all routes remains.
The biggest concern for McKinnon, of course, is health. Another knee injury would not only lead to the end of his 49er tenure, but possibly his career. Yet, if his offseason videos are any indication, it seems the knee is fully recovered.
Freak injuries are always a risk in the NFL. A ball-carrier has no say in how a defender falls into him. But the 49ers and McKinnon should not play scared.
After years of delays, the “Jet” should finally be cleared for takeoff.