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Can Isaac Guerendo break the 49ers’ curse of early-drafted running backs?

Marc Adams
May 4, 2024 at 9:39 AM



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The San Francisco 49ers have drafted many running backs in the top half of the draft over the years. Some have been hits, like Roger Craig (1983, second round), Ricky Watters (1991, second round), and Frank Gore (2005, third round). Others have been misses, like James Owens (1979, second round), Terrance Flagler (1987, first round), Amp Lee (1992, second round), Glen Coffee (2009, third round), and LaMichael James (2012, second round). Dexter Carter was a solid kick and punt returner for the 49ers in the early 1990s, but he wasn't worth the first-round pick the team used on him in 1990.

The current 49ers regime has drafted four running backs within the first four rounds since 2017. Isaac Guerendo, the running back out of Louisville, is the most recent, taken last week in the 2024 NFL Draft (round four). The early-to-mid-round running backs that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have drafted, pre-Guerendo, have all been disappointments. Each one lost his job to a player not drafted nearly as high (or not at all). Can Guerendo break the trend?

Let's take a stroll down memory lane and look at the running backs Lynch and Shanahan have drafted and who replaced them. You may want to sit down for this.

Joe Williams, 2017 (4th round)


The 49ers traded up to get Joe Williams, the running back out of Utah. He wasn't on their board until Shanahan decided he wanted him. Williams wasn't on the 49ers' radar because there were concerns about whether or not he wanted to play football. He had quit on his team in college. The concerns were valid.

Williams was beat out by Matt Breida, an undrafted rookie. In his three seasons with the 49ers, Breida played in 43 games, with 18 starts. Breida also appeared in five postseason games for the 49ers. Williams never played a snap for the 49ers.

Trey Sermon, 2021 (3rd round)


When Trey Sermon was at Oklahoma, I watched every game he played for the Sooners. Back then, I believed he would be a good NFL running back. I was wrong.

The 49ers selected Sermon two rounds after they drafted QB Trey Lance. But the former Oklahoma and Ohio State running back never seemed to figure things out. 49ers coaches didn't like his vision or how hesitant he ran. When Raheem Mostert, the 49ers starting running back in 2021, went down with a season-ending injury, many believed Sermon would be the guy to carry the load. Instead, it was Elijah Mitchell, who was drafted in the sixth round.

Sermon rushed for only 346 yards and one touchdown during his three seasons in San Francisco. He played in 11 games, with two starts. Mitchell, meanwhile, has played in 27 regular season games and eight postseason games. As a rookie, he rushed for 963 yards, the second-highest for a rookie in 49ers history. Watters had 1,013 yards in 1991.

Tyrion Davis-Price, 2022 (3rd round)


The 49ers followed up their third-round pick of Sermon by using another third-rounder on a running back the following year, Ty Davis-Price, out of LSU. Surely this one will work out, right? Davis-Price was supposedly a strong runner who would be a good compliment to Mitchell. But he made less of an impact than Sermon, rushing for only 120 yards (on 40 attempts) in his two seasons with the 49ers.

Davis-Price, who appeared in only seven games with the 49ers, was passed on the depth chart by undrafted rookie Jordan Mason, who already has played in 33 regular season games and six postseason games.

It's hard to predict which players will be stars, and which ones will fizzle out. With Mitchell, Mason, and Christian McCaffrey already on the team, Guerendo won't be expected to come in and contribute much as a rookie, especially if the position group stays healthy. But running backs typically don't stay healthy. Mitchell has missed 24 games in his career. And McCaffrey gets a lot of touches and takes a lot of hits.

Guerendo may find a role on special teams this season, though, especially with the new kickoff rules that seem to suit running backs better. He's also really fast, running a 4.33 in the 40. But his bigger role may come in 2025 when Mitchell and Mason are scheduled to be free agents. Mason is a restricted free agent, while Mitchell is an unrestricted free agent.

Can Guerendo break the 49ers' trend of early-to-mid-round disappointments at running back? Can he keep from being replaced by this year's undrafted rookie, Cody Schrader? The Missouri running back led the Southeastern Conference in rushing in 2023, so there are no guarantees Guerendo will stay ahead of the SEC's rushing champ.

Regardless, it's clear that the 49ers haven't been scared off by past misses. Let's hope this pick becomes a hit.
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