Kyle Shanahan, much like his father, Mike, has earned a reputation of coaching up running backs with his zone-blocking scheme.
Shanahan's time as the 49ers coach has added to this aura, having success with multiple undrafted players at the position. The 49ers are spending more money on the position (just over $12.6 million, according to Over The Cap) than all but two teams this season, but they're an exception among the teams in the top five by spending that on a group rather than most of it on a star.
NBC Sports analyst Chris Simms, who was a college teammate of Shanahan's at Texas, believes the 49ers will need to rethink their approach to the position after dealing with so many injuries in the backfield this season.
"You can't roll the dice on guys like Tevin Coleman and [Raheem] Mostert every year," Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area's Grant Liffmann earlier this week, identifying running back as one of the 49ers' biggest positional needs this offseason.
"I would think they'd want to get a little younger at the position. You keep Mostert, but maybe get some younger guys that you see a future for, and it could be kind of a 1-2 punch. But, when Mostert's out, you're not like, 'Oh man, our team changes. We gotta do something else.' "
Mostert parlayed his emergence last season into a revised contract this offseason, but he has only played in four games this season due to a high ankle sprain. Coleman (knee) has only played in three games, Jeff Wilson Jr. (high ankle sprain) has only played in seven and undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty is out for the season with a fractured collarbone. Jerick McKinnon, meanwhile, missed the last two seasons after tearing his ACL and experiencing a setback in his rehab.
Hasty turned 24 this season and Wilson is 25, but Mostert and McKinnon are both 28. Coleman, 27, has played more career games than any other running back on the 49ers' roster. This is a group with a lot of mileage on its collective tires, at a position that conventionally has the shortest average career.
"I think that's something they're gonna have to remedy a little bit in the offseason," Simms continued. "They've had to deal with it a lot the last two years, between Tevin Coleman who's constantly banged-up, [former 49ers running back Matt] Breida had the knee injury issues [and] Mostert this year and even last year. So, yeah, I think there's gotta be a little bit of a focus there on maybe trying to find some young, fresh bodies that fit the Shanahan run scheme."
The 49ers will have tough decisions to make next season when the salary cap lowers as a result of the NFL's revenue losses stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Mostert is the only back under contract and owed any guaranteed money, offering the 49ers the chance to retool the depth behind him.
Next year's draft class will include Clemson's Travis Etienne, former Memphis running back Kenny Gainwell and Alabama's Najee Harris. Only Etienne was a first-round pick in Dalton Johnson and Josh Schrock's latest mock draft for NBC Sports Bay Area, so the 49ers will have opportunities to invest at running back without using their first-rounder. Running back isn't the 49ers' only need, but it's an important one.