Running back Jerick McKinnon might be a rising NFL star. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan made him a top free agent target in March because McKinnon fits the mold of the type of running back Shanahan wants on his offense.

The versatile McKinnon is a dual threat who excels at both running and catching the football. He may be small, but he runs strong and has shown off his big-play ability during offseason practices.

Last week, Shanahan was asked about the comparisons between McKinnon and another dynamic running back he had while in Atlanta – Devonta Freeman. While the two have their differences, McKinnon is expected to fill a similar role in Shanahan's offense.

"I think he's very similar," Shanahan said. "Different style runners, but the main thing is it starts with being a running back. You have to be a good running back to truly get the effects of being good in the pass game because if you're only good in the pass game, then they can just treat you as a receiver and it's different. So, it starts with being a running back and we really like him as a running back.

"We studied every run he had in Minnesota. I think he fits in the type of runs we do very well. He's got the speed. He's got the cutting ability, and he's got the toughness to run through arm tackles. Then the pass game is the huge bonus. He is a matchup issue. He's very good in his routes.

"I think he's similar to [Freeman] in that way. Just versatility-wise, he's going to help us a lot."

What does McKinnon think about the comparisons to Shanahan's former running back with the Falcons? He recently told Steve Wyche of NFL Network that he considers it an honor.

"Freeman is a great back," McKinnon said. "He's been doing it for a long time since he got into the league and he had a lot of success with Coach Shanahan. To have that comparison from Coach Shanahan is definitely an honor."



The 49ers have added a lot of new pieces to the offense over the past two offseasons. Just five offensive players from the 2016 roster remain on the team and only one, Joe Staley, is a projected starter. Joshua Garnett, who has missed the last two practices with a minor injury, could be a second with a strong training camp.

The players are working hard to come together and build chemistry with hopes that it will quickly translate to wins.

"I think we just need to keep coming out here and continuing to work," McKinnon said. "It's a lot of new guys, new pieces, so I think the harder we work and the more we work at it, not just at practice but extra stuff that we do on our own, it's going to make us get better each and every day."