The San Francisco 49ers moved swiftly to address some roster concerns following their Week 2 win in the quarterback and running back room.
Now, Kurt Benkert is QB3 in a unit that has Brock Purdy and Jimmy Garoppolo following starter Trey Lance breaking his ankle in the 27-7 win over Seattle. Marlon Mack is elevated to the 53-man roster with injuries to rookie Ty Davis-Price and Elijah Mitchell, plus fan-favorite Tevin Coleman was lured back in for the practice squad on Thursday, September 22.
But regarding the backfield, arguably the focal point of emphasis for a Kyle Shanahan-led team, does this mean that the 49ers no longer have free agent options available should there be a further potential injury pileup?
Heavy senior NFL reporter Matt Lombardo addressed the state of the 49ers’ running back group in his Friday, September 23 mailbag session. Even Lombardo believes that the 49ers are facing challenges following the sudden roster moves, saying “The San Francisco 49ers‘ offense is going to need to evolve, especially after losing quarterback Trey Lance and his mobility to tuck and run on any given snap.” Plus adding how Mitchell continues to be “snake bitten” by injuries early in his career.
But Lombardo listed some names that bears watching in the event the 49ers and Shanahan need to dip back into free agency. One of them has previous ties to Shanahan.
Trio of Names Listed
Lombardo helped mention three names as ones who can offer upside to the 49ers if needed.
“The free agent market is rather barren; led by the likes of journeymen Devontae Booker, Devonta Freeman, and David Johnson, who at this stage offer upside as little more than rotational players,” Lombardo wrote.
So here’s a closer dive into all three:
Devonta Freeman: He could likely top the list if the 49ers need to fulfill one more spot or be on speed dial if another ailment occurs behind the front line and quarterback. Freeman delivered his best production in 2015 and 2016 by becoming a Pro Bowl RB when Shanahan was offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. The 5-foot-8, 206-pound Freeman hasn’t gone over 1,000 yards since Shanahan left. But for a team that could also need a receiver out of the backfield (Freeman caught 73 passes in 2015 under Shanahan), especially with 298 career receptions, Freeman could be the top emergency option.
Devontae Booker: While Booker doesn’t have previous coach and player ties with Shanahan, the 30-year-old does bring a similar versatile skill set that’s comparable to Freeman — as Booker has 3,334 total yards from scrimmage including 1,224 through receiving yardage per Pro Football Reference. Booker would also be viewed as a local addition for the 49ers, as he grew up in nearby Sacramento and starred for Grant Union High School.
David Johnson: The 6-foot-1, 224-pounder would be the more towering and physical option — which bodes perfectly for a team that features inside grinders like Mitchell and the newcomers Davis-Price and Jordan Mason. But the former All-Pro of 2016 also has a background as a receiver — once catching 80 passes in his lone Pro Bowl season and has 18 career receiving touchdowns per PFR.
Who Could Give the Best Value?
At this stage of their careers, all three would come in without needing a high-priced contract as all three are going to be emergency options for any team needing an extra back.
If anything, Booker had the highest deal of the three last season with a two-year, $5,500,000 contract with the New York Giants. Freeman is clearly far removed from his blockbuster $41,250,000 deal with the Falcons (was on a one-year, $1,075,000 deal last season with Baltimore). Johnson was on a $5 million deal good for one year with the Houston Texans last season.
Given Freeman’s past ties, he’s likely the best case scenario in the event the 49ers need an extra backfield presence. Though Booker and Johnson can add some needs too. However, that’s only if the 49ers have to force themselves to pivot that direction as Lombardo writes.
“Unless catastrophe strikes, expect the 49ers’ rushing attack to look similar to how it has in the past with Jimmy Garoppolo behind center; led by [Deebo] Samuel — at least until Mitchell returns — with [Jeff] Wilson, Mack, and Coleman chipping in as the hot hand,” Lombardo said.