49ers

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

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AP

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”

Watch ex-49er Dekoda Watson make kid’s day with impromptu blocking lesson

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USATSI

Watch ex-49er Dekoda Watson make kid’s day with impromptu blocking lesson

"How you gonna block me?" 

In this case, former 49ers linebacker Dekoda Watson was being sincere. He was asking someone in a Rams uniform, just much smaller and younger than he's used to. 

Watson, now with the Broncos, asked a group of a Rams youth football team who on the team plays offensive line. One lucky player stepped up to the challenge. 

"There you go!" Watson encouraged the kid while youngster attempted to block the 245-pound linebacker.

[RELATED: 49ers RB Wilson makes 53-man roster decisions ever harder]

No matter what this young tyke does with football, he'll never forget stepping on a NFL field and going toe-to-toe with a pro. 

Watson, 31, spent the past two season with the 49ers where he suited up in 18 games. 

49ers running back Jeff Wilson fights for roster spot, scores two TDs

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AP

49ers running back Jeff Wilson fights for roster spot, scores two TDs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After making an appearance in six games for the 49ers in 2018, including starting in two, running back Jeff Wilson finds himself playing to prove he’s worthy in a loaded backfield. 

Wilson made a nice case for himself Saturday night in the 49ers' 27-17 preseason win over the Chiefs. He led the 49ers with 45 rushing yards on 12 carries and scored two touchdowns. 

“He came back bigger,” Shanahan said. “He put some weight on. He runs more. His style is more like a bigger back, especially compared to our other guys, but he has always been that same weight. He came back about 15 pounds heavier.” 

Wilson sat out of the first preseason game because of a calf injury, but he has gradually worked his way back into the mix. This made his showing in Kansas City even more important. 

“He got hurt early on, so we have not been able to look at him since he has been healthy,” Shanahan said. “He shows that he carries that weight well and he looks like a very similar runner to what he was last year, but when you are running the same and you have added 15 to 20 pounds, that is a good thing.”

Wilson gave credit to the entire offense when asked about his touchdowns. 

“I was just trying to get one-on-one on the first one and that happened," Wilson said. "I had space. So, I took it to the outside and tried to outrun them. On the second one, that was all up to my O-line and the receivers. 

“Jordan Matthews made a great block that helped come off the back side and that gave me a good clear vision of the endzone. Kudos to him and the O-line for doing their jobs.”

Jimmy Garoppolo and first-team offense were much more productive in Kansas City than they were in Denver. Wilson explained that the momentum has been carried over throughout the entire team. 

“Everybody is gelling,” Wilson said. “Everybody is getting a feel for each other. Everybody knows what to expect. Everybody knows what we’re trying to accomplish on offense. It’s all going in one direction and we’re going to try to keep that going.”

[RELATED: Jimmy G takes 'another step in right direction' for 49ers]

With Wilson stepping up his productivity, Shanahan knows the decisions he will have to make whittling down the roster to 53 players, will be even more difficult. 

“I think he ran pretty well in this game tonight,” Shanahan said. “I think he ran well last week and we will see how he does in this final one. We will have to make a decision on a bunch of guys.”