The 49ers running back room got a sizable jolt Thursday night when it was announced San Francisco traded a slew of draft picks to Carolina for RB Christian McCaffrey.
It’s a deal that improves a position the club has tried to get right by using third-round picks to address it in each of the last two drafts. The results haven’t been promising, so head coach Kyle Shanahan flipped the spread and went all-in on a known commodity, albeit an oft-injured one over the last two seasons.
Let’s take a look at what San Francisco’s RB depth chart looks like with McCaffrey in the building when everyone is healthy:
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There’s no question about the No. 1 back. McCaffrey can run between the tackles, he can effectively run outside zone, and he’s dynamite in the passing game. If the 49ers wanted to they could leave McCaffrey in for 100 percent of the offensive snaps and he’d always have a chance to be effective.
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
While his workload will see a sizable dip, Mitchell could wind up benefitting from this acquisition. He goes from the clear-cut No. 1 on the depth chart to the clear-cut No. 2, but McCaffrey won’t be on the field all the time. Mitchell, who’s been out since Week 1 with an MCL sprain after missing six games during his rookie season because of a variety of injury issues. The 2021 sixth-round pick is extremely talented, and now he can help the offense in bursts where he takes 8-10 carries a game instead of shouldering a 20-plus carry load. A healthy Mitchell could be a valuable piece for the 49ers’ backfield even with less volume.
(Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
Wilson’s the player who will see the most dramatic dip in usage. He’s the No. 1 back for now, but he was used sparingly when Mitchell was healthy. Now with two players in front of him he may be relegated to a short-yardage and special teams role with everyone available. That won’t be for awhile though since Mitchell will miss at least a couple more weeks. Wilson should see a bulk of the carries in Week 7 vs. the Chiefs, and he’ll get sprinkled in after that as McCaffrey gets up to speed, but a fully healthy backfield likely means little to no work for Wilson.
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Davis-Price could conceivably pass Wilson as a short-yardage back, but that’ll take some doing considering the only snap he played against Atlanta in his return from a high ankle sprain was to be a lead blocker on a toss to Deebo Samuel. It’ll likely revert to what it was at the beginning of the season between him and undrafted rookie Jordan Mason where the player active on game day will be the one who contributes the most on special teams.
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Speaking of Mason, he has earned one carry in a season where injuries have plowed through the 49ers’ backfield. He’s also played just six offensive snaps. His place on the depth chart and whether he’s active on game days will come down to special teams.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
There likely won’t even be a roster spot available for Coleman when the backfield is fully healthy. He was brought in when the 49ers were in dire straits at running back due to injury. Now McCaffrey gives them someone new atop the depth chart and improves their depth as a result. Given that he doesn’t contribute at all on special teams, Coleman is likely the odd man out with four other RBs on the roster.
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