D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports


Frelund lists 49ers’ Trey Sermon among rookie running backs who will thrive in 2021

Jun 7, 2021 at 12:17 PM--


NFL Network analyst Cynthia Frelund predicted which rookie running backs are most likely to thrive during the 2021 season.

"Using contextualized play-calling data from each team and factoring in every rookie RB's skill set, my model believes the following five newbies will provide the biggest returns in 2021," wrote Frelund.

On the list were Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Javonte Williams of the Denver Broncos, Travis Etienne of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Michael Carter of the New York Jets. Sandwiched in the list at No. 3 was San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Trey Sermon.

"Next Gen Stats reveal regression on San Francisco's offensive line this past season, at least in the ground game," wrote Frelund. "The 49ers averaged 4.1 expected yards per rush last season (21st), compared to 4.6 in 2019 (third). They also dropped to 15th in rushing yards per game in 2020 (118.6) after finishing second in 2019 (144.1)."

Of course, injuries likely played a part in the regression of the team's potent rushing attack. Frelund acknowledges this. The team acted accordingly to ensure there was enough depth among the running backs, drafting Sermon out of Ohio State in the third round and making Elijah Mitchell a sixth-round pick out of Louisiana.

The team also re-signed eight-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams to a massive deal and brought in veteran center Alex Mack to solidify the interior of the offensive line. San Francisco also drafted guard Aaron Banks out of Notre Dame in the second round.

"The emphasis on the run game in this offensive architecture provides enough potential volume for Sermon, but (head coach) Kyle Shanahan does like utilizing a committee backfield," Frelund continued. "Sermon ended up ranking second in the Big Ten last season with 870 rushing yards (trailing only Minnesota's Mohamed Ibrahim), thanks to a prolific three-game run down the stretch that saw him pile up 636 yards and four touchdowns on the ground."

Sermon finished 2020 with four rushing touchdowns to go with his 870 total rushing yards. All four of those scores came during the final four-game stretch.

Added Frelund: "Computer vision shows that Sermon's body control (measured in sustained speed when changing direction) was in the top 10 percent of backs in the past two drafts, which bodes well for his ability to be a useful weapon in Shanahan's arsenal."



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