49ers Training Camp Preview: Who can back up McCaffrey at RB?
Jul 21, 2023, 11:15 AM | Updated: Jul 23, 2023, 2:43 pm
(Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2023 training camp with a few questions across the board. While most of the roster is a ready-made Super Bowl contender, some areas could spell disaster for the franchise, especially depth.
The 49ers have accumulated top-end talent to feature on both offense & defense, but what happens if those marquee players get hurt? We all watched it happen last season at the quarterback position, with the team playing four different signal-callers leading into the NFC Championship game. The same can be said for other key positions, including running back.
San Francisco has had a revolving door at the running back position for a few years now, going from Carlos Hyde to Raheem Mostert to Jeff Wilson Jr. just last season. That all changed with the acquisition of Christian McCaffrey.
After making the move to acquire CMC at the trade deadline, the 49ers’ offense immediately stepped up a level. The RB himself accumulated over 1,500 total yards and 14 total touchdowns after joining the Red & Gold, capped off a with a 23-yard TD run in the NFC Championship game in January.
Christian McCaffrey after joining the 49ers:
⛏️ 263 total touches
⛏️ 1,509 total yards
⛏️ 14 total TDs
No. 44 player and No. 3 RB on the PFF50 pic.twitter.com/8toE03uGKf
— PFF (@PFF) July 17, 2023
Coming off his first Pro Bowl season since 2019, the 49ers will look to continue utilizing McCaffrey to his fullest potential. But they”ll need to be cautious with him, given his injury history. That’s where these other options come in to play.
Here is who coach Kyle Shanahan hopes to have step up if CMC goes down.
The No.2 job begins with Elijah Mitchell, a former star running back that was plagued by injures last season.
Bursting onto the scene in 2021, Mitchell quickly sprung up the depth charts in his rookie season with the 49ers. Despite being a sixth-round selection, the player finished with 1100 scrimmage yards and six combined TDs his rookie season.
The problem? Health has been a major factor for him.
Last season, Mitchell missed 12 of the 17 regular season games due to multiple MCL sprains in his knees. The hindered his ability to be effective, only rushing for 279 yards and two TDs. That in turn, allowed McCaffrey to become of desperate need for the 49ers, taking the starting job by the horns.
Could that mean the Louisiana alum is on the move elsewhere midseason? It’s definitely a possibility.
But for now, he’ll try to regain his form of 2021, hoping to stay healthy long enough to put a string of good performances together. Shanahan will want to utilize multiple RBs in his system, giving Mitchell his value still. But if he can’t stay on the field (18 games missed in two seasons), that could open the door for another man on the pecking order to thrive.
That man could be the undrafted sensation Jordan Mason.
Joining the 49ers after going undrafted in 2022, Mason made the most of his training camp, surpassing Trey Sermon on the depth chart in short order. Given a 1% chance to make the 53-man roster, the Georgia State alum did that and then some.
Mason suited up for 16 out of 17 contests last season, replacing the often injured Elijah Mitchell throughout the year. He finished his rookie year with 258 rushing yards, 43 carries and his first TD of his career. His lone score came Week 16 against the Las Vegas Raiders. His best game was Week 14 in Seattle, breaking off four attempts for 64 yards.
A LeGarrette Blount-style tailback, Mason uses his brute strength and downhill abilities to churn out yardage the hard way. That’s an element of San Francisco’s offense they haven’t had since Frank Gore was at his peak. And he looks to be adding more to his game, showing off pass-catching skills during spring workouts.
If he can become a more complete RB this season, the 49ers may have a big decision to make on the future of their room, especially if Mitchell can’t stay healthy long-term.
The forgotten man in the group.
While Davis-Price was also a rookie last season, injuries and inconsistency plagued him for much of the year. That allowed others (Jordan Mason) to get an upper hand on the depth chart in 2022. 2023 will need to be a different story if TDP wants to stay on the 53-man roster.
A third-round pick, Davis-Price played six games in 2022, rushing for 99 yards on 34 attempts. He did not record a TD in his rookie year. Spring workouts showed a steady version of the LSU alum, breaking off a few runs into the second level. He’ll need more runs like that if he wants to remain in San Francisco long term.
For now, he’s seen as the fourth option in an already crowded room. But anything can happen, especially with the 49ers.