SANTA CLARA – Coach Kyle Shanahan – and his father before him – has experienced success with running backs who were not high draft picks.
A year ago, some thought the 49ers might use their top pick on Leonard Fournette. But Fournette was not among the Top 3 players on the team’s draft board. The 49ers selected defensive lineman Solomon Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick after trading back one spot with the Chicago Bears.
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Fournette with the No. 4 selection. Fournette is likely to return to action Sunday against the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium after missing a game with a quadriceps injury.
“It’s been proven that you can get guys (running backs) later,” Shanahan said on Wednesday. “But that by no means makes it that I’m going to say we’re never going to draft a running back high.”
Fournette leads the Jaguars (10-4) with 923 yards rushing and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He has also caught 29 passes for 213 years.
“When you find a special one (running back) and you think that makes sense for your team, you should never hesitate to do that,” Shanahan said.
“A big time running back, whether it’s Fournette; whether it’s Adrian Peterson, who was a top-10 pick; whether it was Terrell Davis in the sixth round; whether it’s David Johnson, I think was a third-rounder; Le’Veon Bell, I think was a second-rounder. All those guys are worth top-five picks, but they were all found in different places.”
Davis, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, was the key offensive weapon for the Denver Broncos teams that won Super Bowls in the late-1990s under Mike Shanahan.
“If Terrell came back out, I promise you he’s not going in the sixth round,” Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s probably going as a top-five pick. That’s one of the reasons they won Super Bowls. So you just got to find who you think that guy is, and there’s a lot of ways to do it.”
The 49ers could have a similar decision this year. Starting running back Carlos Hyde is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. The 49ers could be looking to add a back with more play-making ability. Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is considered a possible Top 5 draft pick. The 49ers are currently in line to draft No. 4 overall.
The team this year drafted running back Joe Williams in the fourth round. He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a foot injury, but the club is optimistic about his potential as a play-maker for next season.