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Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports


The Pros and Cons of Reducing 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey’s Workload in 2024

Jul 5, 2024 at 4:25 PM



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The San Francisco 49ers have a dual-threat running back at their disposal with Christian McCaffrey. The dynamic star has an ability to single-handedly change a game, consistently demonstrating this ability week after week last season.

The 28-year-old former first-round draft pick not only has found a new home in San Francisco since joining the 49ers in 2022 via a trade with the Carolina Panthers, but has dominated when his name is called upon.

As recently reported by The Athletic, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan addressed the possibility of reducing McCaffrey's workload, giving more carries to other athletes on the roster. Shanahan also mentioned how the energetic back has a hard time taking plays off due to his competitive nature.

"We have guys that can run the ball. We have to protect Christian from himself," Shanahan said last month. "He doesn't like to ever come out no matter what the situation is and I do think that's something we could protect him with more."

Shanahan continues by mentioning a coaching point and how having McCaffrey in the passing game is much different than the running game due to wear and tear decreasing.

"When you are such a threat in the pass game, it's a little different... But if he's just taking the wear and tear with 20 carries and stuff every game—and he's definitely good enough to do that and he has proved he can stay healthy—but you'd like to take some of that off of him and give it to other guys also," Shanahan stated.

Regardless of being a pass catcher or a run-between-the-tackles type of back, McCaffrey playing 81% of the offensive snaps last season seems a little excessive. Many believe that he should get more breaks while others are under the impression that the best athletes should be on the field the majority of the time; but which one is the better idea for the 2024 San Francisco 49ers?

We will explore the Pros and Cons of reducing McCaffrey's workload in 2024.

Pros:


Injury Prevention

Through his first full three seasons as a starter in the NFL, McCaffrey remained largely healthy, missing zero games due to injuries. During the 2020 season, he suffered a high ankle sprain and was placed on injured reserve by the Panthers. After returning in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs, McCaffrey again suffered an injury, but this time to his shoulder and missed the rest of the season.

His 2021 campaign did not start off well either, as he only played in seven games before suffering hamstring and ankle injuries. Seeing his injury history over the previous two seasons, the Panthers decided to trade him in 2022 to the 49ers in exchange for a second, third, and fourth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, along with a fifth-round pick in 2024. While there is no question that he has remained a relatively healthy and productive figure on the 49ers, there are still question marks each year as he becomes older. A positive or "Pro" for reducing McCaffrey's workload this upcoming season is keeping him healthy and fresh longer into his career—especially after signing an extension with San Francisco this offseason.

Balanced Offensive Approach

Even though, at times, there have been questionable decisions, for the most part, one of Shanahan's strengths as a coordinator is his ability to utilize the offensive talent he is surrounded with. Reducing McCaffrey's usage can provide a more balanced offensive approach. In football, especially in the NFL, it is crucial that offensive production is split almost 50/50 between the running game and passing game. A team's goal is to run the football efficiently and effectively to open up the passing attack and vice versa. With McCaffrey potentially getting reduced carries, it could give the passing game more love and appreciation.

Develops Younger Athletes

One of the more important pros is the ability to develop younger athletes with McCaffrey getting less carries. The one running back in particular who 49ers Faithful would prefer to see develop is rookie fourth-round back Isaac Guerendo from Louisville.

While Guerendo seems like an athlete who will be mainly a special teams player this season, he could have more chances to tote the football due to injuries and other factors. Developing him, along with giving Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason more carries, can boost their stocks for future NFL teams if the organization decides to move on and/or they decide to sign elsewhere in the future.

Cons:


Hurts the Team's Identity

One of the biggest negatives or "Cons" would be losing the team's offensive identity. A weakened running game could make things difficult for quarterback Brock Purdy and the offense. We have witnessed at times where teams stop the run, which lessens the effectiveness of play-action and bootlegs, resulting in a drop back passing game that is messy and inefficient. McCaffrey gives the team the best chance at keeping their identity and losing any sort of reps could hurt the production and the rhythm of the offense.

Not Worth the Headache

Signing a two-year extension through the 2027 NFL season and remaining the highest-paid running back in the NFL is not worth the reduction of carries. The 49ers paid McCaffrey this offseason and he should play when healthy, especially since Shanahan and the front office may have to hear negativity all season long if the team starts to falter and lose. This is not worth the headache from every single player, coach, and administrative personnel and is a major negative or "con" if they do not fully play the 2023 Offensive Player of the Year when he is healthy and able.

Backups Could Fumble/ Not Be Productive

While playing backups has many positives, such as development and film that future employers would like to see, it also has a major negative from the standpoint of turnovers and lack of production. Not playing McCaffrey, even for a snap, could result in miscommunication between the quarterback and running back handoff, resulting in a fumble. Disaster could strike at any moment and that is not something Shanahan and his staff wants to endure this season.

Final Thoughts:


The decision to reduce the workload of McCaffrey is an extremely difficult decision. There has to be a balance between keeping him healthy, while also maintaining the team's offensive identity. Shanahan and the staff have a big decision to make, one that may require McCaffrey to go from the 81% offensive snap count we witnessed last year to 70% or even lower.

Poll

  • Should Shanahan Reduce McCaffrey's Workload this upcoming season?
  • Absolutely! Longevity is key.
  • No! Make the best player, play.
  • Indifferent. Just as long as we win.
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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