What Went Wrong With 49ers RB Matt Breida?

Maverick Pallack

After a 3-0 start to the season, the 49ers were still battling a “pretender” label as they hosted the Cleveland Browns for Monday Night Football. At the time, it was the biggest game under head coach Kyle Shanahan. A solid performance would finally open some eyes around the NFL. 

Looking to establish his offense early, Shanahan called the perfect run play. With George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk leading the way, running back Matt Breida took the misdirection and torched the Browns for an electric 83-yard touchdown. Safety Damorius Randall stood no chance as Breida’s run (22.3 MPH) was the fastest in the NFL all season according to NFL Next Gen Stats. 

The 49ers wound up playing one of their best all-around games all season, banishing Cleveland back to the depths of the NFL. The 49ers officially became postseason contenders. 

At the time, it seemed like this was just the beginning of a Pro Bowl year for Breida. As he had the previous two seasons, he capitalized on his chances while teammates were injured. The 49ers loved to run the ball, and he was their lead back. 

But right when the 49ers were hitting the most important part of their season (a five week stretch in which they played four eventual playoff teams), Breida’s season took a back seat.  

In the week 10 defeat to Seattle (another MNF game), Breida injured his ankle. In his absence, Raheem Mostert usurped Breida’s partnership with Tevin Coleman in the formidable 49er backfield. 

In Breida’s second game back, he fumbled twice in the loss to Atlanta, decreasing his carries further. He needed more touches to right the ship, but there just wasn’t enough to go around. As the postseason approached, Breida had officially lost his position to Coleman and Mostert. 

Along with losing his role, he essentially lost his confidence. Losing so many fumbles in a limited capacity shows a lack of concentration. He just wasn't trusting himself. Breida was like the Ahkello Witherspoon of the offense. Committing errors and playing scared.

His standing on the roster is further in question this offseason as he is a free agent. But, despite the lack of use over the final half of the season, Breida should by no means be counted out. All 32 teams should be interested in a player of Breida’s caliber. He has elite speed and is a very capable runner. 

Unlike fellow free agents Arik Armstead, Jimmie Ward and Emmanuel Sanders, Breida’s free agency comes with an asterisk. 2019 was only his third season in the NFL, making him a restricted free agent this offseason. This means the 49ers can match any offer Breida accepts from another team, but will they? 

The answer should be yes, depending on the price. Breida averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2019 and was the team’s leading rusher before his week 10 ankle injury. Yes, this past season didn’t end well and his skills do compare fairly similarly to Mostert’s, but there’s no denying that Breida is lethal when he gets the ball. 

As long as Breida’s initial offer sheet doesn’t break the bank, the 49ers should not hesitate to bring back their most consistent running back over the past three seasons (1902 rushing yards in that time). This offseason could prove to be the reset that he needs to get him back to running the ball confidently again.

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