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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Should the 49ers be worried about Christian McCaffrey’s workload?

Al Sacco
Apr 11, 2024 at 12:03 PM

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It's not an exaggeration to say that RB Christian McCaffrey is coming off one of the best individual seasons in the history of the San Francisco 49ers.

In his first full year in red and gold, McCaffrey led the NFL in rushing yards (1,459), total yards (2,023) and total touchdowns (21) on his way to becoming Offensive Player of the Year. His yards on the ground were the fourth most ever for a Niners running back and his 21 touchdowns trailed only WR Jerry Rice's team record of 23, which the Hall of Famer accomplished in just 12 games in 1987. McCaffrey was also prolific in the passing game, hauling in 67 receptions and often providing a safety net for QB Brock Purdy.

Because McCaffrey has meant so much to Kyle Shanahan's scheme, it's easy to see why the offense often flows through him. However, when you're the centerpiece of an attack as a running back, that often comes with increased touches and wear and tear.

Since joining the 49ers, McCaffrey has played in 33 games including the playoffs. He's touched the ball 680 times in those contests, including a whopping 130 touches in the postseason alone. When you consider the time he spent with the Carolina Panthers before being traded to San Francisco in 2022, he's played 39 games and has 798 combined carries and receptions. That's a heavy workload for any back, let alone one that's already been in the league for seven years.

With 339 regular season touches and another 78 in the playoffs, McCaffrey had a total of 417 over 19 games in 2023. The last time he carried that much of a workload was in 2019 with Carolina when he totaled 403. In the two seasons that followed, he played a total of just 10 games due to injury.

What does this mean for the 49ers in 2024?

McCaffrey will play this upcoming season at age 28 and he likely still has another year or two of high level production assuming he stays healthy. But the 49ers should consider not leaning on him as much during the regular season. With another deep playoff run in the team's sights, it's imperative the McCaffrey stay on the field. That may mean bringing in another back that's trusted to play important snaps.

RBs Eli Mitchell and Jordan Mason are both effective runners, but the former's battled consistent injuries and the latter doesn't seem to have the full confidence of Shanahan when it comes to pass protection. Both are in the last year of their deals (Mason will be a restricted free agent in 2025). The team also signed free agent RB Patrick Taylor to a one-year contract but the former Green Bay Packer has just 65 career attempts.

The 49ers themselves understand that McCaffrey won't be around forever and you could see them make a move in the middle rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft for someone to spell him at times this season and possibly take over in a year or two. Louisville RB Isaac Guerendo was rumored to be a target by NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline on X before he eventually deleted the tweet.

McCaffrey is one of many players on the team who will still play a large role in 2024 but may not be around more than another year or so past that. Look for the 49ers to begin retooling while still staying competitive and bringing in another back may be part of that plan.

Al Sacco is the co-host of the No Huddle Podcast. You can listen to the show wherever you get your podcasts or watch on the 49ers Webzone Youtube station below:


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