The 49ers running back room is full of talent, but also question marks and injury history. In a breakdown of every player in San Francisco, from OTAs to minicampMatt Barrows of The Athletic laid out the situation.
The 49ers relied on a sixth-round rookie as a leader last year. Elijah Mitchell took over at the start of the season as the Week 1 starter, Rahim Mostert, ended his year after just two races. Mitchell started ten games for San Francisco totaling 963 yards in eleven appearances to break the 49ers single-season rushing record for a rookie. The only notable downside to Mitchell’s rookie campaign was that he was inactive for six games, a theme that will be repeated throughout this article. Continuing on that note, Mitchell underwent knee surgery in the offseason that forced him to miss all of the team’s spring practices. He is expected to return for training camp and is expected to start the season as the 49ers return once again.
The best backup running back is a bit up for debate as Barrows thinks Jeff Wilson is next, while ESPN’s Nick Wagoner claims the rookie third-round draft pick Tyrion Davis Price will skip the rest of the room on the depth chart.
Wilson served as a starter when Mitchell missed time last year and returned to RB1 duties this spring with Mitchell sidelined. Surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee forced Wilson to miss the first eight games of the year last season, and it took him a while to regain his footing. Now more than a year out of surgery, Wilson should be back to full strength and provide a solid secondary option alongside Mitchell.
Davis-Price declared for the 2022 NFL Draft early after a strong junior year at LSU where he rushed for 1,003 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was brought in to shore up a running room that was often riddled with injuries, but Davis-Price suffered a minor injury in the first week of OTAs and missed the remaining practices. Hopefully that’s the extent of the effect San Francisco’s running back curse has on the 21-year-old.
Sermon Trey was drafted three rounds ahead of Mitchell last year, but saw his teammate pass him on the depth chart as the speed of the game at the NFL level proved a bit too much for Sermon in his rookie season. Sermon had two starts at the start of the year, when Mostert and Mitchell were injured and Wilson had yet to return from surgery. Coaches wanted him to be more decisive when carrying the ball and he found himself sidelined for the final six weeks of the season once Wilson and Mitchell were back and (relatively) healthy. health. Sermon served as RB2 this spring with Mitchell out, but, if Wagoner is right and Davis-Price is inserted as a second-string running back, Sermon could find himself fourth on the depth chart to start the season, and it’s hard to imagine San Francisco having more than four running backs in the regular season.
If that last statement is true, and assuming the 49ers decide to carry four running backs in September, Sermon will have his work cut out for him as he competes with JaMycal Hasty. The undrafted former free agent isn’t quite the rusher Sermon is, but Hasty has been the team’s best pass-catching option out of the backfield all spring. If the coaches trust Wilson to come back 100%, they might be able to rely on him for those transmissions, but Hasty’s quickness could put him in favor in those situations. Additionally, Hasty’s ability and kickoff history adds special team value that Sermon doesn’t provide.
There you go, everything is sorted. Based on talent, the depth chart probably reads: Mitchell, Wilson, Davis-Price, Sermon, Hasty. Perhaps due to the luck they have had in past seasons, San Francisco decides to use 5 of their 53 spots on the running backs roster (not including full back Kyle Juszczyk). Otherwise, a top three of Mitchell, Wilson and Davis-Price looks likely with a possible fourth place given to Sermon or Hasty, depending on need and value.