The 49ers will head into training camp with a running back room full of talent and questions in 2019. Jerick McKinnon signed in 2018 only to lose his season to an ACL injury, Matt Breida was the fastest ball carrier in the league in 2018 and averaged 5.3 yards per carry (4th best in the league). Tevin Coleman was added to the fold on a cheap deal and is an obvious fit in Kyle Shanahan's scheme. Even in limited playing time last season, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson, Jr. contributed admirably. Shanahan's scheme is set up for running backs to succeed, especially given the speed in 2019's running back group. The question on everyone's mind is, who will be the odd man out on game days? Mostert seems safe being a special teams ace, but can the team have five (Hey, Kyle Juszczyk) active backs on gameday? Let's try and make sense of it all.

Projected to Start

Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, and Kyle Juszczyk

Tevin Coleman has a leg up on all competition with McKinnon and Matt Breida unable to participate in OTAs and Coleman's familiarity with Shanahan's system. Coleman's 2016 season was his best: nearly 1,000 scrimmage yards on fewer than 150 touches and a career-high 11 total touchdowns. Shanahan had a plan of not overloading Coleman with touches, but rather making his touches efficient. In the red zone, Coleman was especially effective, which would be a welcome addition to a team needing more options around the goal line.

The play below highlights not only play design but the mismatches Coleman can create on linebackers:


Nearly the same concept here:


With McKinnon's Week One status up in the air, Coleman is the only lock to start at this point. Rumors swirled after the Coleman signing about whether McKinnon would be cut, but McKinnon's contract contradicts that thought. In 2016, Atlanta had success using Devonta Freeman and Coleman as a one-two punch. Shanahan is looking to duplicate that with Jet and Coleman. McKinnon and Freeman are the same physical build, but Freeman's running style is much more physical. I expect Shanahan to use McKinnon on more outside runs than he did with Freeman.


Here we see what Shanahan loves about McKinnon, great with the ball in his hands, fast and elusive:


Kyle Juszczyk is always in play due to Shanahan's position-less offense, which makes for some interesting decisions come game day.

Projected Backups

Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert

Matt Breida played through multiple injuries in 2018, most likely to keep the momentum he built going. As an undrafted player, you have to imagine Matt pushing through injuries to show his worth. Breida improved in nearly every statistic, his yards per carry (4.4 to 5.3) and catch rate (58.3% to 87.1%) jump out at you immediately. As possibly a third back in the rotation, the 49ers have one of the best running back groups in the league.

Raheem Mostert was pressed into duty in 2018 after injuries ravaged the group. He's a lock to make the team and be active on game day.

Outlook


Coleman and McKinnon can be a lethal combination and give Shanahan flexibility in his play calling. I expect Coleman to be a very big red zone threat and I've gone on record saying he will top 11 touchdowns this season. If in fact McKinnon isn't available for week one or longer, Matt Breida is more than capable of filling in and allows McKinnon to take his time recovering. Conversely, if McKinnon is ready to go then Breida is the most likely candidate to be inactive on Sundays.

Next: Wide Receivers