Kyle Shanahan — and, before him, his father, Mike Shanahan — always managed to put together one of the league’s top ground games without making much of an investment in the running back position.
The 49ers picked a great time to change course, one of the top evaluators of college football said on 49ers Talk.
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, has long held Trey Sermon in high regard. He called the 49ers’ selection of Sermon, the former Oklahoma and Ohio State running back, one of his favorite picks in the entire draft.
“He’s big,” Nagy said of Sermon, who is 6-foot-1/2, 215 pounds. “He’s got unbelievable feet. Vision. Cutting ability. He’s just a really talented guy.”
In 13 previous drafts on teams in which Kyle Shanahan was either offensive coordinator or head coach, his teams only once drafted a running back higher than Sermon. In 2015, the Atlanta Falcons selected Tevin Coleman in the third round with the No. 73 overall pick.
The 49ers picked Sermon in the third round (No. 88) after sending fourth-round picks at 117 and 121 overall to the Los Angeles Rams to move into position to select the player who figures to be their top back for a while.
Later, the 49ers selected another Senior Bowl alumnus, Elijah Mitchell of Louisiana, with their sixth-round selection.
Nagy, an NFL scout for nearly two decades before taking over the Senior Bowl operation, liked the 49ers’ selection of Mitchell. But he loved the commitment the team made toward adding Sermon to their talented group of running backs.
Sermon played his first three college seasons at Oklahoma, where he was a part-time player who caught Nagy’s attention. Sermon transferred to Ohio State for his senior year, and averaged 7.5 yards per carry. He set the school record with a 331-yard performance against Northwestern in the Big Ten Football Championship Game.
Sermon sustained a dislocation of his SC joint, which connects the collarbone to the sternum, on the first play of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Alabama. He attended the Senior Bowl but did not participate in the game due to the injury.
“I think he’s so talented,” Nagy said. “You could go back a year ago at this time when we started watching his Oklahoma tape before he transferred. He was one of our favorite players, highest-graded players last summer just based off the Oklahoma tape when he wasn’t even a starter.
“He was really kind of a head-scratcher. Why is this guy in a position where he feels like he needs to grad transfer? It didn’t make any sense to me, because when I put on the tape, he looked like a high-end NFL starting running back.”
Sermon did not make much of a contribution at Ohio State early in the season. But he eventually worked himself into the role as the main back.
“That offense went to a completely different level when he became the guy at running back,” Nagy said.