If history has taught us anything, it’s that there is fantasy value in a backfield run by coach Kyle Shanahan. And if history has taught us anything else, it’s that Shanahan is fine using a crowd to achieve that value. That’s been true all of his time in San Francisco and seems to be true as we head into the 2021 season.
In 2020, the 49ers’ run game produced 1,889 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs. The team achieved that using five running backs, who each carried 25 or more times. At the same time, Jerrick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman moved on this off-season. The 49ers have reloaded and again have a plethora of backs in their stable. So, who among them is the best value for fantasy players? Let’s weigh the options.
Raheem Mostert was once an undrafted running back that bounced around among various teams. But in 2019, as the 49ers made a run toward the Super Bowl, Mostert took off. He ran for 772 yards and eight TDs on 137 carries, adding 14 receptions for 180 yards and two TDs. He was also a big factor in the post-season and, heading into the 2020 season, managed to get a contract extension.
It appears Mostert was poised to lead the backfield, and in the eight games he played, he was the starter. He produced 521 yards rushing and two TDs, adding 16 receptions for 156 yards and another TD. But he missed time due to injury, opening the door for Jeff Wilson to step in and shine. Heading into 2021, Mostert again figures to be a big factor in the backfield. But he’s in the final year of his contract, carrying a cap figure of a bit over $3 million if he plays and under $500,000 if he’s released.
The 49ers also added to their collection of backs in the draft, spending a third-round pick on Trey Sermon out of Ohio State. He began his college career in Oklahoma, rushing for 2,076 yards and 22 TDs in three seasons. For 2020, he transferred to Ohio State, posting 870 rushing yards and four TDs. He also caught 12 passes for 95 yards.
Shanahan does not typically go get running backs. Mostert and Wilson were undrafted free agents that made a big impact. So, fantasy players have taken note of Sermon, frequently taking him in the first or second round of rookie drafts. Overall, he has a current ADP of RB47, which given his potential in the offense, makes him somewhat of a bargain.
The Wild Cards
Heading into the off-season, it appeared it would be wheels up for Wilson. The young back, who spent his whole career with the 49ers, produced when given a chance in 2020. He played in 12 games, starting three, and saw a career-high 126 carries, producing 600 yards and seven TDs. Even after the draft, the presence of Wilson seemed to indicate the 49ers could choose to move on from Mostert and be OK. But of late, Wilson tore his meniscus and underwent surgery that will have him out for four to six months, meaning likely he won’t be available until November. While he might still be a future stash, those holding him with the hope of a repeat in 2021 will likely be disappointed.
The 49ers didn’t waste any time bringing in a veteran, adding Wayne Gallman to the mix. Gallman was with the Giants in 2020 and was the player who got the call when Saquon Barkley was lost for the season. Gallman played in 15 games, starting 10 in 2020 and seeing 147 carries. He produced 682 yards and six TDs, seeing 21 receptions for 114 yards. That was good enough to be RB33. He’s a veteran that’s showed he could carry the load when needed.
The 49ers also return JaMycal Hasty, who rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown on 39 carries in 2020. And the team added another running back in the draft, selecting Elijah Mitchell out of Louisiana in the sixth round. Mitchell ran for 3,267 yards and 41 TDs in four seasons and drew some attention for his numbers in the months leading to the draft. He gives the 49ers another versatile backfield weapon.
Where Is The Value?
So, which back are you banking on? If we’re looking to the future, I’m still holding Wilson to see how 2021 shakes out. He showed a lot of pop and explosion in 2020, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play a role when healthy. I also like Mitchell as a late stash in rookie drafts. I’m grabbing him at the end of the third or fourth Round and throwing him on a Taxi Squad if I’ve got one. I also like Sermon as the future, especially if he shows something in 2021, as I suspect he will.
In the short term, if you have Mostert, he should still return value. When he was on the field in 2020, he looked good. With Wilson hurt and the rest of the group comprised of rookies and veterans learning the system, I suspect Mostert remains on the roster and is the starter at the outset of the season. If he has a strong start, I might look to trade him since his future beyond 2021 is murky.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus 2 Canton network.