Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports


What to Make of the 49ers’ Running Back Frenzy in 2021

Rohan Chakravarthi
May 4, 2021 at 2:00 PM


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When it comes to running backs, it seems like the San Fransisco 49ers can never have enough. After this weekend's eventful NFL Draft, during which the 49ers added to their crazy depth with two draftees in Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco has many players at the position who could see playing time in 2021.

Last year, the primary running back group consisted of Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, and Jerick McKinnon.



However, a multitude of injuries gave opportunities to Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty, who made the most of their chances, as Wilson Jr. ended the year with 600 yards, seven touchdowns, and a very productive 4.8 yards per carry average, including a whopping 183-yard game against Arizona. In addition, Wilson Jr. slots in as the No. 2 back in the backfield for the 49ers in the upcoming season as the team moved on from both McKinnon and Coleman in the offseason.

Raheem Mostert, last year's primary back, was extremely productive as well in his limited time, rushing for over 500 yards, while also averaging a phenomenal 5.0 yards per carry.

With those two mainstays, along with three valuable additions, let's take a look at the loaded running back depth for the run-heavy 49ers offense this upcoming season.

Raheem Mostert


Slotting in as the primary back once again, Mostert will look to bounce back from his injury-riddled 2020 campaign and be the running back in line with his production over the past two years. Just two years ago, in the NFC Championship Game, Mostert rushed for a whopping 220 yards and was a prime force on a championship-caliber team.

For people looking to attribute Mostert's success to the 49ers' run-blocking offensive line, think again. During that successful playoff run, Mostert gained a tremendous 4.3 yards after the carry, showcasing his top-level speed and elusiveness.

Mostert's storyline is also something not to forget: he went undrafted and was cut by six teams before reaching a deal with the 49ers, with which he blossomed into the star he is today.

However, if Mostert cannot stay healthy for a full season, because of the rest of their depth at the position, the 49ers do not have to worry.

Jeff Wilson Jr.


Wilson Jr. was the beneficiary of Mostert's injury last year as he shined as the lead back for stretches of the season. It was the main reason the 49ers felt confident in him as the No.2 back heading into the season.

Along with his rushing statistics, Wilson can be an option in the passing game, while also serving as a pass-blocker at times, displaying his versatility. Wilson is similar to Mostert in that he showcases that top-level speed and can quickly get to that second-level to space himself out in the open.

Wilson has been a predominantly healthy option out of the backfield in his limited time, providing the 49ers with a consistent, safe, option who has developed into a prime rusher.

Trey Sermon


Slotting in as either the No. 3 or No. 4 back for the 49ers is the rookie out of Ohio State, Trey Sermon.

While he may have been slightly over-drafted and a luxury pick, Trey Sermon could be a valuable pick down the line for the 49ers. Without playing a single snap, Sermon has already drawn comparisons to former 49er standout running back Carlos Hyde.

Sermon could be valuable for the 49ers due to the uniqueness he brings to the team. While the 49ers have many speedy, elusive rushers, such as Mostert and Wilson, they do not possess that power-back who can be efficient inside the hashes.

Sermon's fit with the 49ers is the best for him, as it allows him to serve as the team's primary power-back, keeping him active, but also preserving his legs, as the running back depth does not force him to be an every-down player, which will increase his durability, an essential at the running back position.

While running back Michael Carter was ahead of Sermon on my running back board as the fourth-best in the class, Sermon was unquestionably the better team fit, as his style of play brings something new to the team, increasing the possibilities for Kyle Shanahan and his creative mind.

Wayne Gallman Jr.


What made the Trey Sermon pick somewhat surprising was that the 49ers had signed former New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman Jr. earlier in the offseason.

Gallman was one of the more underrated players at the position last year, as he was Saquon Barkley's replacement after Barkley's ACL injury. Gallman flourished as the starting back for the Giants, rushing for over 650 yards, while maintaining an efficient 4.6 yards per carry, despite sitting behind a below-average offensive line.

Now, coming to a team for which the offensive line is a strength, look for Gallman to show his explosiveness and agility, while also being preserved in the crowded 49ers backfield. Gallman provides insurance at an injury-prone position, as he proved to be a quality starter in 2020.

Don't be fooled by Gallman's speed painting him as just an agile back. Gallman had 56.2% of his yards after contact in 2020, proving his ability to get past the first level on a consistent basis, even without the breakaway plays of 20+ yards.

Look for Gallman to be productive in his depth role this year, especially if the injury bug returns for the 49ers at the position.

Elijah Mitchell


Another luxury pick in this past weekend's NFL Draft, the 49ers took Elijah Mitchell in the sixth round to round out their crowded depth at running back.

Like Sermon's comparison with Carlos Hyde, Mitchell compares favorably with Raheem Mostert for the 49ers, showing their preferred player types. With Mostert in a contract year and likely to get a raise on the open market with consistent production, Mitchell provides insurance as a running back next year.

While Mitchell has the traits to be developed, I was surprised by the pick, especially given the team's ability to develop talent easily at the position. Still, Mitchell can prove to be a quality player, mainly in 2022 and beyond.

Mitchell is a very fast running back, clocking in at a 4.32 40-yard dash, comparing similarly to the other speedy backs on the team.

With the crowded running back room and Mitchell's speed, look for him to mainly contribute on special teams in 2021, with the possibility of filling in as a kick and punt returner.

Another potential benefit could be Mitchell's usage in the passing game for years to come, as in 2018, Mitchell totaled more than 340 receiving yards, averaging over 17.5 yards per catch. While that rate is almost certainly unsustainable in the NFL, it showcases that Mitchell could develop into a solid receiving back to complement his running abilities out of the backfield.

Expectations


With an abnormal number of quality running backs on the roster, matched with the additions along the offensive line, look for the 49ers to continue their run-heavy, play-action scheme.

The group will be expected to produce at a high level, similar to 2019, during which it ran for 144 yards per game, which was second in the league.

The increased depth at the position places the 49ers in a great spot to overcome any significant injuries, while also preserving their players and keeping everyone's legs fresh.

If the 49ers can replicate their 2019 success in the running game, they should be significant contenders in the NFC.
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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