There’s a new running back in Santa Clara, and he just might be what the doctor ordered, and by the doctor, San Francisco 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Historically Shanahan has favored backs who not only know how to break a tackle and run like the wind, but also guys who you can count on in the pass game and keep defenses guessing. It looks like he found his man in Jerick McKinnon.
“[H]e’s an extremely good runner,” Shanahan said. “I’ve loved him since college…and to be able to see he can make people miss and he can create arm tackles and he has the strength and power to break those arm tackles. What is a huge bonus on him is when you talk about the pass game. When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams. 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.”
See, told ya.
McKinnon comes to the 49ers from Minnesota, where he finished 2017 with 570 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns and 421 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Not too shabby. And that’s not to say anything about his ability in pass protection, an area that’s going to be important to the 49ers and their $137 million man, Jimmy Garoppolo.
“[T]his guy is violent, doesn’t turn anything down, is one of the more physical backs that I’ve seen and you can tell why he’s just a very good football player because he’s got the mentality and the skill set,” Shanahan said. “And when you have that, you can block.”
McKinnon was primarily a third down back with the Vikings, but his workload will increase, like a lot. Shanahan said Thursday that he expects McKinnon to be his starting running back.
“This is the opportunity that I’ve been waiting for, not just since I’ve been in the league, but since I’ve been playing football, period,” McKinnon said. “I’m just excited to be here, be a part of this team, and push myself to be the best I can when the season is ready to kick off. Push the guys at the same position to be the best. I’m excited to be here and I just can’t wait to get to work.”
At 5’9″ and 205 pounds, McKinnon is usually one of the smaller guys on the field, but he’s never let that stop him from anything.
“You know, my whole life, I’ve been a small guy,” McKinnon said. “I’m not that big, but I’m strong and I got a lot of heart. And when it’s time to compete, I’m really fresh and ready to step up so I’m ready for whatever.”
First up will be proving durability under an increased workload, but McKinnon is not concerned.
“For me, personally, it’s always been about just having that chip on my shoulder and keeping that fire inside of me to keep striving to be better every day, every year,” the running back said. “This contract has been a blessing, a real blessing. For me, it’s a circumstance where I know that I don’t have to worry about anything in the future. Financially, I’m set and now it’s time to be the best player I can be and I don’t have to worry about anything. Like I said, it’s just coming to work and I’m ready for it.”
Ready or not, here comes the NFC West and a myriad of tough defenses that the 49ers will face come September.
“Feature back, starting back, obviously, that’s what we think of him and that’s why we got him here, but you can use backs in a lot of different ways,” Shanahan said. “There’s lots of things you can do with them and when you have a guy like Jerick, when he’s on the field, he’s not on the field just to run passes. He’s not on the field just to run the ball. He can do both and when you can do both, it puts defenses a lot more in a bind and gives us a lot more options.”
Put on those Jet packs 49er fans. He’s going to be fun to watch. Go Niners!