Why 49ers drafted Sermon despite lack of running back need

/ by Matt Maiocco
Presented By Big O Tires

Ohio State running back Trey Sermon is a good fit for the 49ers’ running attack.

But there was not a big need for another one-cut running back on the roster along with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Wayne Gallman Jr.

The biggest thing that distinguishes Sermon from the three veteran backs on the 49ers’ roster is that he will sign a four-year contract and is assured of being around for the next several seasons.

Mostert, Wilson and Gallman are signed only through the upcoming season.

The 49ers traded up to No. 88 overall in the third round to select Sermon. The 49ers held onto their other third-round pick, scheduled for No. 102 overall, but sent their fourth-round picks, Nos. 117 and 121, to the Los Angeles Rams.

Sermon is in a situation to receive a lot of playing time as a rookie, but it appears obvious that the 49ers plan to feature a backs-by-committee approach.

It is also possible — if not likely — the 49ers will have their fifth different leading rusher in the first five seasons of coach Kyle Shanahan’s tenure with the organization.

Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Mostert and Wilson led the 49ers’ in rushing the past four seasons.

San Francisco’s biggest immediate need at running back was for more of a change-of-pace running back who can run crisp routes and catch passes out of the backfield.

That is not Sermon’s forte. He caught just 48 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns in his four-year college career.


Sermon, however, was a highly productive runner. He averaged 6.5 yards over his career at Ohio State. He gained 2,946 yards and scored 26 touchdowns.

He rushed for 870 yards in eight games last season, and a school-record 331 yards came in a victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game.

Sermon’s skills match up well for the 49ers’ running game, which leans heavily on their outside zone scheme. He is at his best at stretching his runs to the outside, choosing his hole and cutting sharply up the field.

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Shanahan — and his father, two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Shanahan, before him — have always found success with under-valued running backs.

It is not a surprise that the 49ers would follow up their Round 1 selection of North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance with two other offensive players.

The 49ers targeted powerful Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks in the second round.

However, it is a surprise the 49ers would go after a running back in the third round, let alone trade up to get him.

But that probably tells you all you need to know about the kind of production they expect from Sermon for at least the next four seasons.

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