Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Why the 49ers traded RB Jeff Wilson Jr.

Rohan Chakravarthi
Nov 2, 2022 at 3:00 PM--

The 49ers were linked to multiple players during trade deadline day, but ultimately made just one move, sending running back Jeff Wilson Jr. to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2023 fifth-round selection.

While many have expressed wariness over the 49ers' injury history at the position, as well as Jeff Wilson Jr.'s efficiency this season, here's why the 49ers made the move.


Getting a fifth-round selection in the upcoming draft for a backup running back is impressive, especially if that RB is third on the depth chart.

For perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars received only a sixth-round selection from the New York Jets in exchange for running back James Robinson, who is two years younger than Wilson, and has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, while averaging 4.5 yards per carry during his career.

In another trade deadline deal, the Buffalo Bills traded for Nyheim Hines in exchange for a sixth-round selection, while also giving up running back Zack Moss.

Overall, the compensation was definitely a substantial amount, given Wilson's status on the depth chart and the value of his position, making it sensible to trade the running back.


Wilson, Jr. has been the 49ers' starting running back for the majority of the 2022 after Elijah Mitchell went down with an MCL sprain in Week 1.

However, two weeks ago San Francisco traded for star running back Christian McCaffrey, calling into question how much playing time Wilson, Jr.'s would receive moving forward.

Wilson had seven carries for 54 yards in Week 7 against the Chiefs while McCaffrey was getting integrated into the offense, but that volume decreased to just four of the team's 23 carries in Week 8 after McCaffrey was able to get a full week of practice and Kyle Shanahan had a full week game planning with his new weapon.

Wilson played in 36% of San Francisco's offensive snaps in Week 8, but that was primarily due to filling in at FB after the loss of Kyle Juszczyk, who suffered a broken finger in Week 7.

Additionally, the 49ers are expected to have Elijah Mitchell back following the bye week, according to NBC Sports's Matt Maiocco, dropping Wilson's usage even further.

When Mitchell returned from Injured Reserve, the 49ers would've had five running backs on the active roster, which is untenable for a 53-man roster, especially given that they're currently carrying four tight ends, meaning one player had to go.

San Francisco drafted Tyrion Davis-Price in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft and has confidence in him for the future, making it unreasonable for him to be moved.

Undrafted rookie Jordan Mason has been the main running back who plays on special teams, and has flashed when given playing time.

Additionally, Mason has two more years of team control, while Wilson will be a free agent at the end of the year, making sense to hold onto the former rather than the latter.

Wilson's Request

Speaking on a conference call after the trade deadline, general manager John Lynch acknowledged to reporters that Wilson had approached him following the trade for McCaffrey to express his desire to be a contributor.

"Jeff had communicated with us, in a fashion, that, of course, he loved it here, but he also is loving being an integral part of a football team," Lynch said. "And once we did the Christian [McCaffrey] deal, kind of seeing Elijah [Mitchell] close to returning, that he wanted the opportunity to continue to do that."

"And we assured him how much we valued him, but that if all those things came to fruition, and there was a team that was willing to give what we deemed the appropriate price, that we'd try to work with him. But [we] also said, 'Jeff, you're too important to us. We believe we have the team to do it, and you're very important to that.'"

However, Lynch assured Wilson that he would be placed in the best position to succeed, given the organization's feelings towards him, which is why Miami made so much sense as they run a similar scheme as San Francisco.

"One of the things Mike wanted to share is he knows how special Jeff is to us," Lynch said. "He wanted to assure us that he'd take good care of him. Mike's a great dude. And part of this is you have to make great decisions for your team, but you also try to take care of guys that take care of you."

"I'm not saying that Jeff demanded to be traded or anything, but I think, given the situation, if we could find the right situation for him ... he wanted that opportunity. And we found, I think, a really good situation for him, and good for us, as well."

Overall, given the compensation in return, the likelihood of an odd man out in the running back room, as well as Wilson's request, the stars aligned for the trade to occur, which is why the move was a sensible one.

The trade also shows the confidence the organization has in their rookie running backs, and they'll be tasked as the next-man-up should another injury occur to either of San Francisco's top running backs.
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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