Last year's heralded free-agent pickup, Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL before the season opener, forcing the Niners to lean on a committee of Matt Breida, Alfred Morris, Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert. According to NBCSports.com, McKinnon would have been the centerpiece of the offense last season. Per NBC's Matt Maiocco, the 49ers planned to show off the plan in Week 1 of the regular season. McKinnon was signed as a free agent to replace Carlos Hyde as the team's primary back. The team made him the fourth-highest paid running back in the NFL for a reason. McKinnon is equally threatening to opposing defenses as a runner and receiver. As Maiocco explained, "The combination of McKinnon, fullback Kyle Juszczyk and tight end George Kittle would force defenses to make some difficult decisions on how to cover the middle of the field, Shanahan determined. The 49ers would isolate linebackers weak in coverage and exploit that matchup. If teams went small with extra defensive backs, the 49ers could overpower them in the run game." Worth noting: During his two years in Atlanta and last year in San Francisco, Shanahan RBs have finished in the top eight in receptions and top five in receiving yards all three years.
McKinnon's health and the addition of Tevin Coleman to an already crowded backfield (only Morris is gone from last year's group) are all concerns. But his role -- certainly early on -- will be determined by his recovery from the knee injury, something that will become clearer throughout August.
2019 Bottom Line
By all accounts, the rehab was difficult, but the fact that McKinnon and QB Jimmy Garoppolo went through it together was a bright spot for both of them and the pair fully expect to be on the field together when the season opens this September. When the 49ers' official off-season program kicked off in April, NBC reported that on the field, Garoppolo and McKinnon quickly demonstrated the chemistry which resulted from their time together during rehab and in the training room. So assuming he's on the field -- even in a timeshare with Coleman (and others), McKinnon could be in position to outperform his RB4 price tag.