49ers

Jeff Wilson Jr. explains why 49ers' running backs are egoless, tight knit

Jeff Wilson Jr. explains why 49ers' running backs are egoless, tight knit

The 49ers found the perfect answer for a running-back-by-committee approach in 2019. There wasn't one star in the rotation, yet they had the second-most rushing yards in the NFL with 2,305. 

They all have the same thing in common: At one point or another, each of San Francisco's running backs has been counted out. They all have an underdog's mentality. And yet, they're all extremely unselfish. 

"In our room, if you check our pasts, all of us have a similar background," 49ers running back Jeff Wilson Jr. said Wednesday morning to Steve Wyche on NFL Network's "NFL All Access." "We all come from an undrafted past where we had to take the back road. And all that helps us because we know what each other are going through. If one person's going through it, then one person's been through it.

"And for me, I'm just now entering into it. All those guys have been through the same similar situations, so we feed off each other. I feel like that alone has helped our bond to become stronger." 

Wilson went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. Raheem Mostert, the 49ers' leading rusher, went undrafted in the 2015 draft. Same goes for Matt Breida in 2017. 

Tevin Coleman (third round in 2015) and Jerick McKinnon (third round in 2014) were the only running backs in the 49ers' film room who once were drafted. McKinnon has missed the last two seasons with knee injuries, but Wilson still mentioned him among the group. 

Wilson played in 10 regular-season games in 2019 and rushed for only 105 yards. However, he scored four rushing touchdowns, good for third on the team. He also scored one receiving touchdown, and had a 20-yard reception in the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. 

[RELATED: 49ers have solid running backs, but group lacks something]

While Wilson is a part of a deep running back group, he's using a message from Mostert to stay motivated. Mostert took him to breakfast when Wilson first joined the 49ers and told his younger teammate, "It's gonna be a long road. You just gotta keep your head down and know what you're capable of on the inside and never let nobody deter you from that, and you'll be fine."

That seems to be a common theme for all of the 49ers' running backs. So far, their perseverance has paid off.

How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

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USATSI

How Patriots trading Jimmy Garoppolo earlier would've affected 49ers

The New England Patriots' ideal Tom Brady successor is the franchise quarterback for Brady's childhood team.

The Patriots dealt Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick in 2017, to coach Bill Belichick's reported chagrin. He envisioned Garoppolo leading the Patriots into another decade of dominance, but owner Robert Kraft ordered Belichick to trade Garoppolo and keep Brady, ESPN's Seth Wickersham reported in 2018.

Neither Brady nor Garoppolo will be in New England when the 2020 season starts, as the former signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (that's still weird to type and say out loud) as a free agent last month. The Patriots' QB depth chart currently consists of Jarrett Stidham and former 49er Brian Hoyer, which doesn't exactly inspire dynasty-building confidence.

That left NBC Sports Boston's Phil Perry to wonder if the Patriots would've been better off trading Garoppolo sooner, when then-Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson stopped just shy of holding a neon sign over his head indicating he would trade the No. 12 pick before that year's draft for Garoppolo.

"On its face, making that move made sense for both sides," Perry wrote Friday. "The Browns were desperate for a competent quarterback. They were flush with picks. The Patriots, meanwhile, didn't have a first or a second-rounder that spring. For them, trading Garoppolo with a year left on his contract represented an opportunity to bolster their 2017 rookie haul with a top-15 talent."

The ripple effects, as Perry noted would've been far-reaching.

Jackson would've had his quarterback of the future, and thus the Browns might not have drafted Baker Mayfield No. 1 overall -- or even had the pick -- in 2018. The 49ers, who Kyle Shanahan admitted were focused enough on acquiring Kirk Cousins as a free agent in 2018 that they passed on Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, then likely would've gone all-in on Cousins. The Patriots, then, could've drafted Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall -- the same pick the Houston Texans used after acquiring it from the Browns -- as Brady's successor.

Thankfully for fans sick of New England winning titles, that didn't happen. It's also fair to wonder if any of the teams involved other than the Patriots actually were better off.

Acquiring Garoppolo could've saved Jackson's job in the short-term, but the Browns didn't become a team who failed to meet lofty expectations until after Jackson's firing. The 49ers, had they signed Cousins to the same contract he signed with the Vikings in 2018, would've had more flexibility in the first season but less in the second when compared to Garoppolo's extension. Neither Cousins nor Garoppolo is a clear upgrade over the other, and it's not like you can guarantee Cousins wouldn't have torn his ACL in 2018, either.

[RELATED: Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Hanks at all]

The Patriots can (and surely will) kick themselves all they want for not maximizing Garoppolo's trade return, but the Browns might not view a hypothetical Garoppolo deal with the same regret since that still would've meant not picking Watson.

The 49ers, assuming they still signed Cousins, surely would've been happy either way.

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

George Kittle's 49ers rise didn't shock fellow Iowa star Merton Hanks

Tight end George Kittle already is the 49ers’ best fifth-round draft pick since 1991.

Kittle has picked up two Pro Bowl selections and a First-Team All-Pro award in his first three NFL seasons. The 49ers have not experienced that kind of success from a player in the fifth round since the selection of defensive back Merton Hanks, a four-time Pro Bowl player and starter on the 49ers’ Super Bowl champion team in the 1994 season.

Kittle, like Hanks, played college ball at Iowa.

“I think that’s a great symmetry,” Hanks said this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“The 49ers do pretty well with fifth-round draft picks from the University of Iowa. We tend to knock it out of the park a little bit there.”

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Hanks, who now works as senior associate commissioner of Conference USA, described himself as a first-round talent who fell in the draft due to a bad performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He apparently scared teams with his reported time of 4.77 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Kittle had an impressive combine. He had all the measurables, but he did not post great numbers as a pass-catcher during his four-year college career. In 25 games over four seasons, Kittle caught just 48 passes for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns.

In his first 45 regular-season games with the 49ers, Kittle has 216 catches for 2,945 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I can’t say I’m surprised at all,” said Hanks, who referred to Iowa as “Tight Ends U."

[RELATED: How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance]

Iowa produced two tight ends in the first round of the 2019 draft: T.J. Hockenson, chosen No. 8 overall by the Detroit Lions, and Noah Fant, whom the Denver Broncos picked at No. 20.

“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz had NFL ties," Hanks added. "He understands the NFL game and what tight ends have to do to be successful, not only on the collegiate level, but the NFL level.”