I’m starting to believe the hype.
All offseason, I’ve been skeptical that 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon could become the first running back I know of to return to the NFL after missing back-to-back seasons with a knee injury.
But Trent Williams worked out with McKinnon all offseason, and recently said he can’t fathom McKinnon not being a breakout player. And now fullback Kyle Juszczyk has said something similar.
“I think we all share the same sentiments as Trent,” Juszczk said. “Jet has looked phenomenal. You just would never guess going out there and watching the way he practices, how smooth he is, how he doesn’t second-guess himself, how quickly he answers questions in meetings -- all that stuff, you would never guess that this guy hasn’t been on a field for two years. He just makes things look so natural, so smooth. There can only be positive things for him this year. I think he’s going to have a really good year.”
Normally, I wouldn’t buy this hype if it came from coaches, because coaches almost always praise their players and don’t always tell the truth. But Williams and Juszczyk have nothing to gain by lying in such detail for McKinnon.
If Juszczyk says you can’t tell McKinnon has missed the past two seasons, I believe it. Juszczyk is honest and candid. If McKinnon looked terrible, Jusczyk would find a polite way to avoid talking about him.
From what I’ve gathered, McKinnon has worked out extremely hard all offseason and suffered zero setbacks. Last year, he couldn’t practice more than two days in a row without reinjuring his ACL. So he has made tremendous progress.
If McKinnon makes it through training camp without hurting himself, an outcome which seems increasingly likely, he almost surely will make the 49ers 53-man roster. We don’t know how much quickness, speed and explosion McKinnon has lost since before he tore his ACL, but Juszczyk and Williams have said they expect a big season from McKinnon.
I expect a modest season from McKinnon -- maybe 75 carries and 25 catches. But Williams and Juszczyk would know better than me.