Meet the Rookies: Exclusive Interview with Salvon Ahmed
Salvon Ahmed, an undrafted free agent from the University of Washington (UW), signed with the 49ers largely because of the influence of running backs coach Robert Turner.
“They were a team (the 49ers) that believed in me from the start. Coach Turner always told me how he felt about me, and anyone who knows him knows that he speaks genuinely from the heart... he’s always honest”. - Ahmed on why he signed with the 49ers and the influence of coach Turner.
Turner was the only coach on the team who was in contact with Ahmed throughout the draft process. After seven rounds of the 2020 NFL draft came and went without Ahmed hearing his name called, Turner was the first coach to reach out to him. That one phone call was enough to get Ahmed to play in the Bay Area.
Without the presence of Turner, it is unlikely the 49ers would have been able to land one of the best running backs in the Pac-12.
Salvon Ahmed 2019 Stats (Pac-12 Rank):
- attempts: 188 (t-5th)
- rushing yards: 1,020 (5th)
- yards per carry: 5.4 (6th)
- rushing touchdowns: 11 (3rd)
- longest run: 89 yards (t-3rd)
There is no questioning that Ahmed was a very productive and efficient collegiate running back. However, for running backs in the Shanahan offense, there is much more to it than simply taking handoffs. Ahmed has it covered.
How Ahmed fits the 49ers
Offensive weapon. That is a term that comes up quite frequently when describing the 49ers skill position players. Shanahan, one of the most innovative coaches in the game, is constantly breaking down the walls of players being limited to their traditional positions.
Very few things are more important than versatility in his offense. Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, Brandon Aiyuk, Kyle Juszczyk, George Kittle and all of the running backs can line up all over the field. This is something that Ahmed can do as well.
Throughout his freshman season, Ahmed was part of a very crowded running back room. Because of the depth the Huskies had at the position, Ahmed took a good amount of reps at slot receiver.
Those reps gave Ahmed experience running short routes, intermediate routes, screens and jet sweeps -- all three of which are regularly seen in Shanahan’s offense. Over the course of his three seasons at UW, Ahmed caught more than 50 passes for more than 300 yards.
As a running back, Ahmed possesses the big-play, home-run-threat ability the 49ers lost in Matt Breida. Ahmed’s career average of 5.7 yards per carry ranks him tied for first in school history, among all players with at least 300 carries.
At the Husky combine in 2019, Ahmed ran a 4.32 40-yard dash. This speed was evident on his 89-yard touchdown run against USC last season. However, at the NFL combine, Ahmed ran only a 4.62 and 4.67 40-yard dash. The low 40 time may be the reason why Ahmed went undrafted. Nonetheless, he will have the opportunity to show off what speed he truly possesses late July when camp starts.
Why Ahmed can make the team
The fact that Ahmed went undrafted is somewhat irrelevant when discussing his likelihood to make the team. Yes, it is tough for rookies to transition to the NFL in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. But coach Turner, who Ahmed calls the best running back coach ever, won’t allow that to be a reason for Ahmed to not make the team.
“It’s a lot of information, trying to get that playbook down. It’s harder trying to learn all that stuff through Zoom. Most football players go out to the field, do it, and then you kind of comprehend it more. But it’s been good, Coach Turner has been making sure that were able to learn it fast”- Ahmed on learning the playbook
In years past, the 49ers have had as much success as any other team in the NFL with their Day 3 draft picks and undrafted free agents. Heck, they’ve been extremely successful specifically finding undrafted running backs. Just take Raheem Mostert and Breida for example.
It also helps Ahmed that he has Turner in his corner. As he points out in our interview, Turner has a history of successfully jump-starting the careers of undrafted and late-round running backs. Guys like Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Peyton Hillis, Alfred Morris, Breida, and Mostert all have benefited through the guidance of Turner.
As long as Ahmed takes advantage of his reps, there is a great chance he could be headed towards a successful NFL career, just like a handful of his undrafted teammates.
As it stands, the 49ers have a loaded running-back room. Ahmed and fellow undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty will compete with Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Jeff Wilson for roster spots. This is assuming Mostert is a roster lock.
There are very few guarantees in regards to roster spots at the position, even for the veterans. Coleman has a high price tag, and I could see him ending up on the trading block prior to the season starting. McKinnon has an injury history that is well documented. Wilson has an extremely small sample size, though the team seems to really like him.
It is entirely possible that the 49ers keep Ahmed as opposed to one of the aforementioned running backs. Ahmed is under contract throughout 2022, and his salary is extremely cap-friendly. Coleman is a free agent after the season, Wilson is a restricted free agent after the season, McKinnon’s status with the team is far from certain and Mostert is under contract until the end of 2021.
Ahmed is fit to make an impact on this team, and keeping him around on his rookie deal is a smart move.
Don’t be surprised if Ahmed is the next great undrafted find for the 49ers, and the next running back coach Turner gets to brag about.
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