Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has yet to step on the field during a real game with running back Jerick McKinnon.
But he saw enough of McKinnion during offseason workouts to know he can make a huge impact on the 49ers’ offense this season.
“Jet, being a former quarterback, it's kind of a rarity to have a skill-position guy who sees the game like a quarterback still, and Jet does a great job of that,” Garoppolo said.
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McKinnon originally signed with the 49ers as a free agent in 2018 when coach Kyle Shanahan hand-picked him because of his pass-catching skills. But McKinnon has yet to play for the club.
He sustained a torn ACL a week before the regular-season opener. He also spent last season on injured reserve after his graft did not heal properly.
McKinnon averaged nearly 500 yards rushing in his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Where McKinnon excels is as a receiver out of the backfield. In 2017, he caught 51 passes for 421 yards and two touchdowns.
“Even just throwing routes on air this offseason, he runs them differently than most running backs and he has a feel that's like a receiver, but he feels space like a quarterback,” Garoppolo said. “It's very unique and I'm excited to get him back, man.
"It's been a while.”
Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert figure to be the 49ers’ top running backs on base downs, while McKinnon provides an element as a third-round back they have not had since Shanahan was hired in 2017. Coleman was the 49ers’ top pass-catching running back last season with 21 receptions for 180 yards.
McKinnon agreed to a sizable pay cut this offseason to remain with the club. He has been cleared for full work at the beginning of training camp. With Garoppolo's accuracy, McKinnon's dynamic play-making could provide another huge yards-after-the-catch element to the offense.
“We came in together, me and him when we both signed here, and it's exciting to have him back,” Garoppolo said.