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Can Isaac Guerendo end this 49ers draft trend at running back?

May 23, 2024 at 9:35 AM

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ESPN's Bill Barnwell has expressed concerns about the San Francisco 49ers' draft history under head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. While the duo has brought in key contributors like Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Fred Warner, and Nick Bosa, they have also had their share of draft misses, which is cause for concern.

These missteps haven't cost the 49ers too much, though. The team has still participated regularly in NFC Championship Games and is coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the second of Shanahan and Lynch's tenure. Still, the team has yet to get over the hump and bring home that elusive sixth championship for the franchise.

Some critical draft misses may have contributed to the team failing to reach its aspirations, the most notable being trading significant draft capital for Trey Lance in 2021. The 49ers will point out that they still managed to acquire their franchise quarterback, Brock Purdy, the following year, but that might have been more good fortune than anything else. Additionally, San Francisco missed out on adding potential key contributors with the selections they gave up.

Barnwell anticipates the 49ers repeating as his pick for the team with the best set of playmakers in football, but he can't overlook the draft selections of Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd, and Danny Gray. And those are just the wide receivers. The ESPN analyst also points to the 49ers' failure to restock another position group via the draft.

"Running back, though, has been the place in which Shanahan has tossed the most picks with limited success," Barnwell stated in a feature for ESPN. "Leaving aside the injury that prevented Jerick McKinnon from living up to a significant free agent deal in 2018, the 49ers traded up in the fourth round of the 2017 draft at Shanahan's behest to draft Joe Williams. He never played an NFL snap. In 2021, they used a third-rounder on Trey Sermon, who was gone after one season. The following year, they used another third-rounder on Tyrion Davis-Price, who had 40 carries for just 120 yards before being released before the end of Year 2."

This year, the 49ers added another mid-round running back in Isaac Guerendo, whose 4.33-second 40-time at the NFL Scouting Combine was the fastest among this year's rookie running backs and the third-fastest among all players in Indianapolis.

Guerendo's speed is what attracted the 49ers.

"Number one, we were looking for speed," running backs coach Bobby Turner said on Wednesday. "And not only speed, but he has the speed, and he's bigger. He's 221, 222 pounds. So we needed another bash runner in our offense. The head coach and everyone else can speak for themselves, etcetera, but he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body, but he's very coachable. ... But the very first thing I saw on tape was the ability to break the long runs and take it to the house. He's gonna hit the home run."

Turner added that Guerendo's speed was apparent on film. However, the coach wasn't aware of just how fast the running back was until he showcased his speed at the Combine.

Guerendo also has just one collegiate start on his resume, as he consistently found himself behind another running back on the depth chart.

"Like Williams, Guerendo is a size/speed talent; both players led their respective classes in Speed Score," Barnwell notes. "Unlike Williams, who had a 1,407-yard season at Utah, though, Guerendo wasn't a productive or regular back during his time in college; injuries and other backs limited him to just 582 yards across five years at Wisconsin before 810 yards in his lone season with Louisville.

"You can understand why Shanahan would be enthralled. As talented as McCaffrey is, there's always a place on the roster for a back who can run a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, as the 221-pound Guerendo did at the NFL combine. If he can play on special teams, he could be the new version of Matt Breida, who served as the home run hitter at times in the San Francisco rushing attack alongside fellow undrafted free agents Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. As the 129th pick in the draft, Guerendo isn't going to drag the team out of the postseason if he fails to live up to Shanahan's hopes."

While true, Barnwell counters, "When teams whiff on picks or trade them away to move up, they end up in situations in which they're relying on veteran journeymen such as Logan Ryan and Oren Burks or disappointing draftees like Spencer Burford in key moments, and mistakes or underwhelming play from those guys in big moments helped cost the 49ers Super Bowl LVIII."

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