The 49ers have a stable of running backs and fantasy owners are wondering who is the top option. I break down why Matt Breida can win the number one duties.
The 49ers went into 2018 with high aspirations for Jerick McKinnon having made him one of the top paid running backs in the league. Unfortunately that plan never came into fruition as McKinnon tore his ACL before playing a single snap for the 49ers. This off-season they went and grabbed somebody very familiar with Coach Shanahan’s offensive scheme in Tevin Coleman. Coleman was the Falcons’ running back 1B to Devonta Freeman with Coach Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. The 49ers also re-signed Raheem Mostert this off-season, though he is most likely to continue as a special teams ace even despite playing well in limited offensive snaps. Matt Breida can still be the top running back for the 49ers.
After the injury to Jerick McKinnon, Breida was thrust into a lead back role. Though small in stature, Breida proved to be an excellent runner and carried the ball very well for the 49ers. I think he has made a case to be the lead back again this year, lets check out the candidates.
Career Stats: 56 Games (20 starts), 528 rushing attempts, 2,340 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 4.4 yards per carry, 134 targets, 92 receptions, 1,010 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns, 68.7 % catch rate.
Tevin Coleman always looked destined for a lead back role after sharing time with Devonta Freeman. He has a respectable career average of 4.4 yards per carry and is a very good receiver out of the backfield. Where he does seem to thrive though is the red zone. He had 29 total touchdowns in 56 games while only averaging 37.5% of the teams snaps. His red zone prowess was really on display in 2016 when he had 11 total touchdowns playing on only 34% of the teams snaps.
One of Coleman’s best assets is his ability to catch. He can line up in more than just the backfield as you see here. He lines up out wide for the quick out, sets up his first block and then takes it to the house:
We're not done yet. Tevin Coleman to the crib. pic.twitter.com/jxw8Df7Sey
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) November 5, 2017
Here you can see Coleman run a wheel route out of the backfield. Matt Ryan notices the linebacker in coverage and finds Coleman deep for 39 yards:
Tevin Coleman hauls it in! 39-yard catch! pic.twitter.com/erMOLNALBj
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 1, 2017
As mentioned before, Coleman is great at the goal line and in the red zone. On the goal line all Coleman needs is the smallest of gaps and he hits them hard and finishes those runs well. This clip is a good example of him hitting his gap hard for the touchdown:
Tevin Coleman finds the end zone for 6️⃣ pic.twitter.com/czBPAJSmkB
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) November 26, 2017
Coleman is a nice all around option with the ability to play a three down role. His knowledge of the offense may not give him a leg up since the other backs are comfortable with the system now but it allows him to instantly compete for carries.
Career Stats: 58 Games (14 starts), 474 rushing attempts, 1,918 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns, 4 yards per carry, 191 targets, 142 receptions, 984 receiving yards, five receiving touchdowns, 74.3% catch rate.
Jerick McKinnon was signed to the 49ers as what seemed to be a perfect scheme fit. He has elite athleticism with a solid build of 5’9 and 205 Lbs. and a 40 yard dash of 4.41 seconds. During the 2014 NFL draft combine Jerick McKinnon made many scouts drool. Not only was his 4.41 second 40 time the best running back in his class, he was the top performer in the bench press with an amazing 32 repetitions and came in second in the broad jump at 132 inches.
When it came to putting to use that elite athleticism, the on-field results were not as pleasing. Unfortunately for Mckinnon he was always stuck as second fiddle behind Adrian Peterson and then Latavious Murray. Signing with the 49ers was supposed to be the breakout for McKinnon as a starter but his opportunity was cut short due to the ACL tear. Because of all that athleticism you know he has great break away speed, featured here. Watch, as he hits the hole, how quickly he gets to the second level and beyond:
Jerick McKinnon breaks free for a 58 yard TD run!pic.twitter.com/eV4g1qFaAU
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) October 10, 2017
Pass blocking is another area that McKinnon excels in which is something the 49ers should embrace. With Jimmy Garoppolo coming off an ACL tear of his own, the 49ers should be focused on preventing him from being hit. Here are some clips of Mckinnon in pass protection:
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) November 21, 2017
What the 49ers were most excited about was McKinnon’s receiving ability. He has terrific hands as showcased by his career 74.3% catch rate and he runs routes like a wide receiver. Here, he is practicing with the 49ers from 2018:
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) June 15, 2018
If Mckinnon can come back with a clean bill of health, then Shanahan should not have a problem scheming to get him open out in space.
Career Stats: 30 Games (13 starts), 258 rushing attempts, 1,279 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, 5 yards per carry, 67 targets, 48 receptions, 441 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns, and a 71.6% catch rate.
Matt Breida is the most inspiring player on the team in terms of running the football, especially after his 2018 campaign where he was forced to be the starter. Breida made the most of his opportunity turning in 1,075 scrimmage yards in just 34.5% of the teams snaps. Breida is another amazing athletic specimen. At his pro day in 2017 he posted a 4.37 second 40 yard dash time, a 42 inch vertical, and a 134 inch broad jump and 23 repetitions on the bench press.
The only thing that people are looking down on Matt Breida for is his smaller frame standing at 5’9 and 190 Lbs. He vastly improved his ability as a receiver improving his catch rate of 58.3% his rookie season to an 87.1% catch rate his second season. After being in Shanhan’s offense he understood how important catching out of the backfield was. Watch the beautiful catch he makes on the Nick Mullens pass:
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) November 13, 2018
Do not tell Matt Breida that he is too small to run between the tackles. Here he uses his elite athleticism to make quick side to side cuts and breaks multiple tackles against a stout Jaguars defense:
Matt Breida lookin good. pic.twitter.com/NXOR7ZjHfj
— James Brady (@JamesBradySBN) December 24, 2017
He routinely made Lions defenders look silly trying to tackle him in week 12. His elusiveness and speed were on full display here:
Matt Breida averaged 5.3 yards per carry in 2018, ranking fourth among all running backs.
PS: His 22.09 MPH in Week 12 was the fastest speed of any ball-carrier all season. #49ers
— Rob Lowder (@Rob_Lowder) February 20, 2019
Matt Breida may be given the first shot at the starting role with how well he played in 2018.
Career Stats: 34 Games (0 starts), 41 rushing attempts, 297 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, 7.2 yards per carry, seven targets, six receptions, 25 receiving yards, at a 85.7% catch rate.
Raheem Mostert should not be considered a threat to steal carries from the lead backs. Mostert was given his contract based off of his immense impact on special teams. Not many players can make a career based off purely being a special teamer. Matthew Slater of the Patriots is the only one to come to mind. Mostert though is in that same discussion though.
With that said, Mostert looked good in Shanahan’s offensive scheme averaging 7.7 yards per carry and a catch rate of 85.7% though it was a small sample size. His ability as a cover guy in special teams is almost second to none. If you see him coming you better call for a fair catch because he will get you:
— Akash Anavarathan (@akashanav) September 16, 2018
Mostert showed really good vision in finding gaps, as little as they may have been at times, and turning them into chunk gains:
Raheem Mostert is this season’s welcome surprise. Staley completely blows his assignment but Mostert is still able to run right through the tackle attempt from no. 26 and breaks one for 15. pic.twitter.com/aJC7RxA89a
— Oscar Aparicio (@BetterRivals) October 24, 2018
During the preseason he made his case for making the roster not only for his special teams prowess but for his offensive play-making ability. Watch this play where he takes the simple dump off 87 yards to the house:
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) August 28, 2017
Breida’s Case to Start
When you bring up athleticism and 49ers running backs most people instantly think Jerick McKinnon. The only major category he scored better than Breida in was the bench press, and Breida still impressed there with 26 repetitions. Coleman has similar size to McKinnon but still falls short of Breida in every athletic category. The most surprising test was the bench press where Breida gives up about 20 pounds but still put up four more repetitions than Coleman. McKinnon and Breida have virtually identical 3 done drill times respectively at 6.83 seconds and 6.85 seconds, Coleman did not test. This shows both have great agility but if you watch tape Breida is much more precise in his cuts.
Coleman, Breida, and McKinnon are all excellent receiving backs. This is huge in Coach Shanahan’s offensive scheme. He often uses his backs in motion and out in screens as receivers. McKinnon may be the best of the three boasting a 74.3% career catch rate while also being targeted the heaviest of all three backs. Coleman and Breida are no slouches in the receiving department though. Coleman played this role in the Falcons’ offense already and held his own with a career 68.7% catch rate but led the three backs in yards per reception at 11 yards. Breida was second in that category at 9.2 yards per reception while McKinnon brought up the rear at 6.9 yards per reception.
Breida had one area to work on after his rookie season and that was receiving. Being involved more heavily in the pass game he boosted his catch rate from 58.3% to 87.1% in . His reception rate and yards per reception were both higher than McKinnon and Coleman.
This is where you have to give Breida the edge. He knows the offensive line very well having played with everybody on the line. He understands how each lineman plays and sets up his blocks well knowing this. Breida shows great patience and vision and has excellent speed to hit gaps when they open. Being able to break tackles is an area of Breida’s game often overlooked.
He touched the ball 180 times last year and broke 28 tackles. In comparison Tevin Coleman broke 26 tackles in 199 touches. Breida was able to break more tackles while touching the ball almost 20 less times. It shows in his tape as Breida is very elusive. Coleman is more of a one cut power runner with speed. McKinnon shows that same one cut running style but does not seem to possess the same level of vision either Breida or Coleman do.
McKinnon holds on barely to a 4.0 yards per carry average. As the more he got involved in the offense the lower that average went. In his first two seasons he carried the ball 165 times at an average of 5 yards per carry. In his last two seasons he carried the ball 309 times at an average of 3.6 yards per carry. Coleman has been quite consistent throughout his four year career boasting yards per carry averages of 4.5 ypc, 4.4 ypc, 4 ypc, and 4.8 ypc.
Breida is the only one who showed drastic improvement. He carried the ball 105 times his rookie season for 4.4 yards per carry. He followed that up with 153 carries at 5.3 yards per carry. At that rate if Breida rushes the ball 200 times, which is easily attainable, he would rack up 1,060 rush yards.
Every player in the 49ers running corps has an injury history. Raheem Mostert suffered a gruesome arm break at the end of last season. He went through surgery in the offseason though the procedure was not a complete success. A second procedure is now necessary and the timetable for return is uncertain.
A late season ankle strain that forced Jerick McKinnon to miss one game was the only game he missed leading up to 2018. Unfortunately for him he has now missed 17 games. The entire 2018 season was lost to a torn ACL in the preseason. Luckily for McKinnon the injury was suffered on September 1st of 2018 and should be ready by the start of training camp.
Coleman has missed eight games in his NFL career. He suffered a rib fracture and a concussion in 2015. A hamstring strain left Coleman out for three games in 2016. 2017 brought on another concussion which led to one more absence. Coleman does seem to have a slight concussion history though I would not be worried about it and the hamstring never flared back up.
Matt Breida gets banged up often and that may be due to his smaller frame and running style. An ankle strain bothered Breida for almost all of last season though he still played 14 games and had 5.3 yards per carry. That just says something about how tough he is. Breida just suffered a slightly torn pectoral in OTA’s but surgery is not needed and should be back by training camp.
Based on what I have seen from each candidate I think that Matt Breida has what it takes to be the lead back or running back 1A for the 49ers. He has shown to be the best between the tackles runner and is more than competent as a receiver out of the backfield. Having played two seasons with this offensive line Breida is the only back with any continuity with the group.
The true battle should be for the 1B between Coleman and McKinnon. Coleman was just signed to a deal this season and has experience in Shanahan’s system. McKinnon has not shown the consistent ability that Coleman has throughout his career.
The contract he signed only holds a $6,000,000 cap hit for 2019 if released before June 1st. A $4,000,000 cap hit for 2019 and $2,000,000 for 2020 is what a trade or release would cost after June 1st. Because of this the best option would be to trade him if they need the roster spot. It would not burn a hole in their pocket to release him. I could easily see the 49ers rostering four running backs in 2019 though.
The torn pectoral for Breida should not mean much towards his starting status. He is the only running back on the team with repetitions in this teams offense. Missing OTA’s will not mean that he will lose any traction, it just means the other guys will gain a little.
Final Depth Chart
- Running Back 1A- Matt Breida
- Running Back 1B and Goal Line – Tevin Coleman
- Back-up Running Back and Special Teams Return Man- Jerick McKinnon
- Running Back Depth and Special Teams Ace- Raheem Mostert
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