Raheem Mostert? Out.
Tevin Coleman? Out.
Jeff Wilson? Out.
Jerick McKinnon? In.
This is not the role coach Kyle Shanahan envisioned for McKinnon. But the 49ers have faith that McKinnon has what it takes as an every-down running back to do his part to move the chains and keep the New Orleans Saints’ offense off the field on Sunday.
McKinnon is the one back on the team who has played in each of the 49ers’ nine games this season. He received a lightened workload in the 49ers’ Week 7 game against the New England Patriots, but he came back to log significant playing time in each of the past two games.
“I don't want him to have to carry the load too much because that wears down everybody, especially a guy who's had two years off football coming back with what he's done,” Shanahan said.
Earlier this season, McKinnon played 48 and 67 snaps in back-to-back games against the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. That workload was too much, too soon.
After all, McKinnon was sidelined for the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons after sustaining a torn ACL and complications from the first surgery.
Now, McKinnon is one of the bright spots for the 49ers. He appears to be getting stronger, and he will be needed to show his versatility on Sunday as a runner and receiver if the 49ers have any hope of pulling off an upset over the Saints.
Shanahan said he believes McKinnon is fresh after he dialed back his playing time over a three-game period.
Now, McKinnon is needed to play a lot because the only other running backs available are undrafted rookie JaMycal Hasty and undrafted first-year player Austin Walter, just up from the practice squad.
“I think it'll help him this week going into it and hoping to get some more guys back so we can take that stuff off of him and get him back to using him specifically how we planned on,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers planned to use McKinnon this season primarily as a third-down back due to his ability to win one-on-one matchups as a route-runner out of the backfield. But now they are asking for more.
McKinnon has gained 261 yards rushing and five touchdowns with a 4.4-yard average. And he also has 24 catches for 173 yards.