After a disappointing 2017 season, the San Francisco 49ers cut ties with 27-year-old Carlos Hyde hoping to bolster the future of their backfield. Jerick McKinnon was poised to become a lead back after spending his rookie contract as a backup in Minnesota, but injuries have kept him from ascending. In 2019, the 49ers finished No. 2 in the NFL with 498 rushing attempts. After losing star wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders to New Orleans, and Deebo Samuel to a broken foot this offseason, it’s more feasible than ever that the team could surpass 500 rushing attempts for the first time since 2013 when they made the NFC Championship. With that much opportunity, the advanced stats and metrics point to Jerick McKinnon being 2020’s top sleeper running back in fantasy football.
Jerick McKinnon was always a superior athlete. He entered the league with a 4.41 (96th-percentile among qualified running backs) 40-Yard Dash time, 134.9 (97th-percentile) Burst Score, and 10.95 (94th-percentile) Agility Score. With a 155.7 (100th-percentile) SPARQ-x score, McKinnon’s Best Comparable Player on PlayerProfiler is LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished with over 13,000 rushing yards in 11 seasons.
McKinnon totaled 3,400 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns on 6.5 yards per carry as an option quarterback at Georgia Southern. He was selected at No. 96 overall in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. McKinnon finished his rookie season with 538 yards while splitting carries with Matt Asiata.
The San Francisco backfield has no shortage of carries, and in 2019, three running backs had over 140 touches. Raheem Mostert at age 27, carrying a 25.9 (0th-percentile) BMI never completely took over the 49ers backfield. He did, however, finish on a hot streak in 2019 with a touchdown in six consecutive games. Followed by a big playoff run where he finished with five touchdowns. Mostert only received 20-plus touches in two of 19 games, while Tevin Coleman finished with 20-plus touches in three games, and Matt Breida finished with 15-plus touches in four games.
The 49ers have the ability to disperse carries across multiple players. This advantage pushed them to the Super Bowl while rotating backs throughout games, keeping fresh legs at all times. In the spring, Breida was traded to Miami for a fifth-round draft pick. The 49ers quickly replaced him by bringing in Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty as an undrafted free agent.
Health is Wealth
Jerick McKinnon became the league’s sixth-highest paid running back in 2018 when he signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers. In the last week of fall camp in 2018, he was recovered from a calf strain and ready to take on his former team in the season opener. He then suffered a non-contact ACL tear before taking a single carry in live action for San Francisco. After missing two full seasons, GM John Lynch said he was medically cleared at the end of the season. However, they didn’t feel the need to push him back while pressing towards the playoffs and considering the depth already on the roster.
McKinnon is not the only 49ers running back that has struggled with injuries over the last two seasons. Tevin Coleman started off the 2019 season with a high ankle sprain that saw him miss the next two games. After returning, he averaged 13.6 carries per game over the next eight. He left the NFC Championship game early with a dislocated shoulder but was active for the Super Bowl, where he finished with five carries for 28 yards.
It will be hard to come away from a draft without at least one of San Francisco’s four running backs. After finishing the 2019 season strong, Raheem Mostert‘s FFPC ADP sits at 53.91 (RB26), while teammate Tevin Coleman has an ADP of 99.39 (RB39). While Mostert and Coleman are the first two off the board, Jerick McKinnon and JaMycal Hasty are sometimes (and in Hasty’s case, often) going undrafted in seasonal leagues.
Check out Jerick McKinnon’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:
The winning play is to draft the least expensive member of this backfield. That may be Hasty in some cases. Though his path to the final roster as an undrafted free agent is steep. McKinnon’s FFPC ADP sits at 231.73, making him the 66th running back off the board on average. This will leave owners with great value and guaranteed opportunity in a San Francisco backfield that is often riddled with injury and in need of a late-season performer. If you don’t draft McKinnon now, it might be too late.