49ers

49ers lack traditional short-yardage back, 'when it comes to a big bruiser...'

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49ers lack traditional short-yardage back, 'when it comes to a big bruiser...'

The 49ers’ top two running backs are similar in size and style.

Jerick McKinnon (5-foot-9, 205 pounds) is the 49ers’ new top running back, as Kyle Shanahan pinpointed him in free agency as an upgrade over Carlos Hyde for his ability to make more plays on his own. Matt Breida (5-10, 190) remains as the No. 2 running back.

What the 49ers lack is a traditional bigger, short-yardage back. And Shanahan said he does not expect fullback Kyle Juszczyk to fill that role.

“Juice is a threat with the ball in his hands,” Shanahan said last week at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Florida, as discussed on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “But Juice isn’t a running back. You’re not going to put him back there and hand it to him when they know he’s getting the ball.”

Juszczyk is likely to be a bigger factor with the ball in his hands in 2018, as Shanahan looks to exploit favorable matchups. Last season, he caught 33 passes. Of his 315 receiving yards, 195 came over the final five weeks with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback.

“When you get to third down, you look for matchups,” Shanahan said. “It’s not always the receivers on the outside. Sometime it’s the slot receiver. Sometimes it’s the running back running the same routes from the backfield that Trent Taylor runs from the slot or (tight end George) Kittle runs from just off the tackle. They’re all similar routes. It’s what’s your better matchup.”

Shanahan said the 49ers will look to add a bigger running back in the draft to join McKinnon, Breida, Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert and others.

“We’ll continue to look in the draft, and we’ll always look to add running backs,” Shanahan said. “When it comes to a big bruiser for the goal line, no one is just running over guys unblocked, either. You need to find open holes and be a good running back.”

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

Chris Simms wouldn't be shocked if 49ers faced Patriots in Super Bowl

If you're looking for someone to slow down the 49ers' hype train, sorry, NBC Sports' Chris Simms isn't here to help.

Actually, it's quite the opposite.

Simms wants you to know San Francisco's 5-0 record doesn't lack substance, and he expects the 49ers to continue progressing to the highest levels this season.

Are they legitimate Super Bowl contenders?

"Yes they are," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. "They're not going anywhere."

"They are arguably the best team in football," Simms continued. "Okay, yeah, I'll give the Patriots the advantage right now because they're the Patriots and we've seen them do it, but when I look at the San Francisco 49ers, I look at -- it's a first-round bye. Is it a one-seed, or is it going to be a two-seed? That's how good the San Francisco 49ers are."

Simms has been impressed by San Francisco's depth and balance, particularly within the offensive and defensive lines.

"It starts up front," Simms explained, "and the 49ers -- yes, Mike McGlinchey's out ... and I know Joe Staley's out, and that hurts, and we might not see him the rest of the year -- but when McGlinchey is back in the fold, this is still one of the best offensive lines in football. Let alone, [Kyle] Shanahan is one of the best game plan designers in football with the run game, the play-action. And the defense ain't going anywhere.

[RELATED: Staley, Witherspoon closest to return among injured 49ers]

"They might be battling it out with the Patriots for the best defense in the sport," he elaborated. "It's the best front four in the sport I think right now, as far as size, physicality, ferociousness, their speed at the linebacker positions. I like Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt at safety. The corners are good, they're coached well."

Put it all together, and Simms believes the 49ers have the potential to play into February.

"The 49ers are for real, and I would not be shocked if we were down in Miami watching New England and San Francisco in the Super Bowl."

Hype train, full speed ahead.

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

Jalen Ramsey-Aaron Donald best NFL duo? Marcell Harris says this isn't NBA

The 49ers' much-improved defense has plenty of star power, but so do their rivals in Los Angeles after a blockbuster trade Tuesday. 

The Rams traded a trio of draft picks -- two first-rounders and one fourth-rounder -- to the Jacksonville Jaguars for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, giving LA two of the NFL best players at their respective positions when you remember that defensive tackle defensive lineman force of nature Aaron Donald also plies his trade in Tinseltown. 

It'd be difficult to find a pair of players on the same defense better than Ramsey and Donald, ESPN's "SportsCenter" account posed the question on Twitter if there is a better duo of defensive cornerstones around the NFL. The problem, according to 49ers safety Marcell Harris? There are nine other players on a defense. 

Harris has a point. Star power can only get you so far in the NFL -- even at historically important positions like quarterback or edge rusher -- because of the league's commitment to parity above all else. When it comes to the NBA, a team with the two best players on the court wins in the regular season and playoffs more often than not. 

[RELATED: Shanahan busts out jokes leading into 49ers vs. Washington]

While this is not necessarily Harris' gripe, the 49ers have a strong case to have a duo under consideration. Whether pairing defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and edge rusher Nick Bosa or swapping out one for one of linebackers Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner, San Francisco has a few cornerstones in its front seven. It's that group that made the Ramsey trade a head-scratcher to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, who argued that the Rams' offensive line should have been a bigger concern than their secondary considering the 49ers' success in Week 6.

Still, Ramsey and Donald are as good as what they do as just about anyone else in the NFL. The 49ers will get their first look at them in the same defense in Week 16 at Levi's Stadium, and they'll see firsthand whether the duo's dominance lifts the rest of the Rams defense.