Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


Don’t Underestimate Breida as Potential Feature Back

Anwar Jamison
Sep 7, 2018 at 9:02 AM


The season-ending ACL injury suffered by 49ers top free agent acquisition Jerick McKinnon put a damper on the enthusiasm of a fan base starved for a winning team, and understandably so. Despite the fact that McKinnon has never truly been the featured back on his team, and only posted a 3.8 yards per carry average last season, head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch told everyone how important he was going to be to this offense and demonstrated their faith in him by making him one of the highest-paid running backs in the league. Therefore, everyone took their word for it because they are both on a short list of the most respected football minds in the NFL, especially Shanahan's.

The apparent silver lining in these conversations has been Alfred Morris. Signed by the 49ers on August 13th, he carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards in the 49ers' 3rd preseason game vs. the Indianapolis Colts and provided the team with what was supposed to be merely another option on the depth chart with McKinnon and Breida. Morris' physical style, coupled with his previous experience with Shanahan in Washington, have most people assuming that he will start and ultimately carry the load for the 49ers.

Not so fast. While both backs will certainly get their share of touches, it is Breida who provides the quickness, burst and versatility that Shanahan covets in this offense. It's the reason why Carlos Hyde was allowed to walk after the signing of McKinnon. Morris is a lot closer to Hyde stylistically, but with even less quickness, while Breida is more comparable to McKinnon.

This is not to suggest that having Breida is the equivalent to a healthy McKinnon, but the fact of the matter is, we don't know what his ceiling is yet. As a rookie, Breida rushed for 465 yards on 105 carries for a 4.4-yard average, much higher than McKinnon's average. Out of the backfield, Breida caught 21 passes for 180 yards, an 8.6-yard average. McKinnon caught 51 passes for 421 yards, an 8.3-yard average, very similar to Breida's average.

Because they were playing in two different offenses, for two different teams, it's obviously not an apples to apples comparison. However, NFL coaches and others who study the game argue that the biggest leap in ability and productivity usually becomes between years one and two of a player's career. If we assume that Breida will be better in year two than he was in year one, we should expect a much more dangerous back than most people seem to be giving him credit for being.

Morris will certainly play a very integral role in the offense, and will likely churn out yards at a productive clip throughout the season. But it is Breida who should be the biggest beneficiary of additional playing time and Shanahan's exemplary play calling. Because when open holes are provided for him, or he catches the ball in space, he is the one with the skill set to not only get yards and first downs but to be a legitimate threat to take it to the house on any given play.
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.


1 Comment

  • don
    You are very optimistic. Hope you are correct but I think they will struggle running.. The keys are the run game and whether the defense can play unforced error football and get off the field..
    Sep 7, 2018 at 9:15 AM
    1

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