Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

What the 49ers drafting of Ty Davis-Price might signal

Marc Adams
May 17, 2022 at 12:47 PM--

For the second time in as many years, the San Francisco 49ers selected a running back in the third round of the NFL Draft. Last season it was Trey Sermon, out of Ohio State University, via the University of Oklahoma. This time it was Ty Davis-Price out of LSU.

The pick left many shaking their head, especially fans who couldn't understand why the team needed to draft a running back so high when it did so a year ago. After the draft, head coach Kyle Shanahan answered that question. "We're a running team," said Shanahan. "We like to run the ball. Anytime you have a chance to get a good back, if that is what's best for your team compared to all the other positions, I don't think you can ever go wrong with a back."

Maybe Davis-Price is a depth piece. "I don't think you can have enough running backs," Shanahan said. "We took two last year. We were happy with our starter (Mostert) going into last year. We had other guys who had played well too, and we took two. And by the fourth game, we're still having to steal other guys off other teams' practice squads just to fill enough guys to play in a game. So sometimes you can have good luck with guys staying healthy, sometimes not. So the more guys you can add the better."

General Manager John Lynch answered the media regarding this draft selection. Said Lynch, "There's plenty of room for these guys. And most seasons we've used four, we've used five. We emphasize the run game here. We want versatile backs, and I think we have that with our collection of guys, and we're excited about that group."

It's possible Shanahan is considering featuring Davis-Price, though I doubt it. I don't see the rookie coming in and knocking Elijah Mitchell out of the starting lineup. In fact, Davis-Price may not even be a better option than Jeff Wilson, Jr. At this point, we simply don't know. And we won't know until the pads come on.

Still, I can't help but wonder if this draft choice tells us more than what Shanahan and Lynch are saying? Maybe it doesn't. Perhaps this is just speculation. I certainly wouldn't expect the team to give any hints as to what they are thinking in terms of strategy. But, is there more to this than we see at face value?

If the 49ers' drafting of Davis-Price does mean more than just depth, here are a few things it might signal:

Is this a signal that Trey Sermon isn't what the team hoped he'd be?

I lived in Oklahoma for many years, and I follow the Oklahoma Sooners football team closely. I can remember when Sermon was a freshman. I thought he was really good. No, he wasn't Adrian Peterson or even Joe Mixon. But I thought he was going to be a very good back at Oklahoma, and perhaps even in the NFL.

But Sermon seemed to fall out of favor at OU. In his junior season, his carries dropped from 164 in 2018 to 54 in 2019. Last season, Sermon appeared to fall out of favor with the 49ers as well.

Was it a pass protection issue? Bobby Turner likes his running backs to be able to pass protect. And if they can't, they won't play. This is especially true of rookies. Davis-Price is a very good pass protector. Maybe he's a replacement for Sermon for this reason only.

There have been rumors that Sermon wasn't picking up the playbook like the team needed him to. This could have been due to an early injury. "We thought he had a chance last year, got banged up, was a little bit behind," Shanahan said. "But I don't think he can't do it this year." Is this why he didn't play much last season?

My hope is that Sermon shows he can become the player the 49ers expected when they drafted him. But it's possible the coaches have already determined he isn't on track to doing so. That may be why they selected a running back so high again.

Is this a signal that the team needs a running back who can put the game away?

I hate to bring this up because I know the pain is still felt among the 49ers fanbase, but there were two recent offensive collapses in some really big games.

The Super Bowl LIV loss (following the 2019 season) and the NFC Championship Game loss (in January) were not only tough to swallow, but neither loss should have happened. In both games, the San Francisco defense held an elite offense in check. The 49ers' offense did enough through three quarters to have a double-digit lead in the 4th quarter.

But in both 4th quarters, the offense went cold, lost some of its creativity, and quit scoring. Both times, the defense held on as long as it could, but ultimately cracked.

In both championship games, the 49ers ran the ball less than usual, electing to pass more. And when they did try to run, holes were difficult to find.

I'm not saying Davis-Price would have made a difference down the stretch of those games, but it seems clear that the 49ers need a bigger, bruising type of running back that can wear a defense down late in the game. The kind of rusher who can move the chains, milk the clock, and put the game away. Could Davis-Price be that back?

Shanahan might be hoping for that. "The physicality he brings gives you the chance to have a very physical one-two punch," Shanahan said. "I thought Deebo helped us do that towards the end of last year bringing that in, but you don't want that to be just your one-two punch. You've got to bring in some other backs to do that."

Regardless, Shanahan needs to use his best players down the stretch in games like these. In Super Bowl LIV, Raheem Mostert, the team's best offensive weapon in the 2019 postseason, touched the ball only four times in the 4th quarter. George Kittle touched the ball once in the 4th quarter. Deebo Samuel, who might have been named Super Bowl MVP if the 49ers held on, did not touch the ball at all in the final quarter.

In the 2021 NFC Championship Game, Samuel, the 49ers' best player, only touched the ball once. Kittle had zero touches.

Is this a hint at a shift in offensive philosophy?

The last two drafts have looked different for the 49ers. They have drafted:

  • A quarterback that's different than the other quarterbacks Shanahan has employed. Big arm. Big body. Ability to run the ball.
  • Two running backs who are different than the others. Sermon and Davis-Price aren't the speedy weapons Shanahan seems to like. They're bigger backs.
  • Offensive linemen who are different than the others. The 49ers have drafted offensive linemen the past two years who are larger than the smaller, more athletic bodies in the past.

Is Kyle Shanahan shifting gears and transforming his offense into a more power-based run game? Many have speculated this given the draft choices that have been a little different than in previous drafts. Lynch talked a little after the draft about how Davis-Price is a 'tremendous fit' for the 49ers.

"Obviously you take into account where the league values someone, but you're only guessing when you do that," Lynch said. "We have a lot of different layers, and part of our process is to try to figure that out. But ultimately, do you like the player? Do you have a vision for that player? And does he fit something you think can not only improve your team but is that the best fit for us? At the time, we just thought he was a tremendous fit for exactly what we're looking for and I think a great complement to Elijah."

What exactly is that fit? Is Davis-Price fitting into the 49ers offense we have grown accustomed to? Or is the offense changing? Is Davis-Price a fit for a new offense? It's going to be fun finding out.

Say what you will about taking a running back as high as round three, but I'm intrigued by the selection of Ty Davis-Price. I think he may bring some traits to the 49ers that the offense has been lacking.

Hopefully, with a little bit of luck, and getting the ball to your best players in the 4th quarter, Davis-Price can help push the 49ers over the top.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

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