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Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports


Why Matt Breida will have a breakout year for the 49ers

Al Sacco
Jul 19, 2018 at 9:52 AM2


When it comes to who will run the football for the San Francisco 49ers in 2018, most of the talk has centered around the newly acquired Jerick McKinnon, and rightfully so. The team signed McKinnon to a four-year $30 million deal in free agency, giving the indication that the plan is to rely on him heavily in both the rushing and passing game. While there's no doubt that McKinnon is primed to be a huge part of the offense, he doesn't have the track record of being the type of back who can shoulder the load on his own. During his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, McKinnon never had more than 159 carries in a season and hasn't averaged more than 3.8 yards per carry since 2015.

Where McKinnon does excel though is at catching the ball out of the backfield, as he's hauled in 94 passes combined the past two seasons in a limited role. Still, in a lot of ways, McKinnon remains a question mark even though his skill set seems to translate well into Kyle Shanahan's offense. With all of the talk about how McKinnon will fit in, the other guy in the San Francisco backfield, Matt Breida, seems to have become a forgotten man. That shouldn't be the case though, as anyone who's paying attention should know that Breida is poised for a breakout season of his own.

Going unnoticed isn't something that's unfamiliar to Breida. After a subpar senior season at Georgia Southern, Breida went undrafted despite putting up prolific rushing numbers in his sophomore (171/1485/17) and junior (203/1609/17) campaigns. The 49ers took a chance on him as a free agent, but few thought he'd be able to make much of an impact with incumbent Carlos Hyde, fourth-round pick Joe Williams, and veteran Tim Hightower seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart. However, as he tends to do, Breida overcame the odds, winning the backup role out of camp.

As the season progressed, Breida seemed to become more and more comfortable in Shanahan's offense, and in turn saw his role expand after Jimmy Garoppolo took over under center. In the five games with Garoppolo, Breida rushed for 234 yards on 52 carries (4.5 ypc). He was especially good in the last two games of the season, gaining 146 yards on 23 attempts (6.3 ypc). In contrast, Hyde averaged ran for 299 yards on 83 carries with Garoppolo (3.6 ypc).

Overall, Bredia finished 2017 with 465 yards on the ground, which was the fourth highest total of any 49ers rookie running back in the last 25 years. Only Frank Gore (608 yards in 2005), Kevan Barlow (512 yards in 2001) and Kendall Hunter (473 yards in 2011) had more. Out of that group though, Breida was second in yards per carry (4.4), trailing only Gore (4.8).

Looking deeper into the 2017 numbers, Breida had a higher yards per carry (4.4) & yards per reception (8.6) than Hyde (3.9 ypc, 5.9 ypr) & McKinnon (3.8 ypc, 8.3 ypr). Breida also averaged 5.1 yards on 126 total touches, while Hyde was 4.3 on 299, & McKinnon 4.9 on 201. In the five games Breida had 10 or more total touches, he averaged 4.68 yards per carry (57/267) and 11 yards per reception (6/66). Overall, that's 333 yds on 63 touches (5.2 yard per touch).

If you're looking for a good comparison in terms of what you might be able to expect from Breida in 2018, you could take a glance at how Shanahan used Tevin Coleman opposite DeVonta Freeman with the Atlanta Falcons. During Coleman's rookie season in 2015, he carried the ball 83 times for 392 yards, and had two receptions on 11 targets for a total of 85 touches. The next year those numbers jumped to 520 yards rushing on 118 carries, and 31 receptions on 40 targets. Overall, Coleman's 2016 season saw him with 149 touches for 941 total yards. He did this despite Freeman still getting more carries (227) and passing targets (65). Breida was actually used more than Coleman as a rookie (Breida had 22 more carries and 25 more passing targets than Coleman did in his rookie season), but it's fair to think his production in year two might be comparable, as Shanahan could very well divvy up the touches in a fashion similar to what he did in Atlanta.

Obviously, like any young player, Breida does have some aspects of his game he needs to clean up. He did drop five of his 36 targets (13.8%) and that will have to improve at some point. Still, growing pains aside, Breida is poised to take a big jump in 2018 as he solidifies himself as one of the mainstays of the Shanahan-era 49ers.

Al Sacco is the Senior Writer for 49ers Webzone and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49 or at [email protected].
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.


2 Comments

  • Jon
    Similar to Auburn, I see a lot of two back sets with J-Ski in the H-back role plus a tight end. It looks big, can play big, but you motion those players out... mismatches everywhere. It's going to be a fun season to watch even if we aren't super successful.
    Jul 20, 2018 at 6:59 AM
    0
  • Mike Kenney
    The last 3 years teams have been stacking the box against us, because we just couldn't throw the ball. Hyde is a decent back,but he couldn't carry the team. Shanahan, with Garroppolo changed all that. McKinnon will shhine getting a chance to catch balls in full stride,like Roger Craig. This actually opens up more opportunities for Breida, who will excel. It will be interesting to watch how far his receiving skills can go. His one cut is starter quality.
    Jul 20, 2018 at 3:09 AM
    0

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