Despite being released almost two months ago, The MMQB 10 Things podcast from 15th May 2017 has arguably not received as much attention from 49ers fans as it perhaps should have. Their top ten running back rankings contained an interesting tidbit for 49ers fans regarding their head coach and his preferences at running back.
Andy Benoit, one of the podcast hosts as well as writer for SI and the MMQB, twice mentioned that Kyle Shanahan preferred Tevin Coleman over Devonta Freeman in Atlanta. This was allegedly due to the fact that he believed that there was a wider repertoire of plays available to them with Coleman in the backfield than with Freeman.
This is clearly an interesting piece of the puzzle as we try and visualise how the team will line up this season. It was Kyle Shanahan who stood on the table for Joe Williams when the front office had discounted him and he undoubtedly has similarities to Coleman regarding his versatility as both a runner and a pass catcher in addition to his physical capabilities. Shanahan’s apparent preference for quicker, more versatile rusher could see Williams to make the number one running back position his own in the near future. Tim Hightower was also an impressive receiving back last season, and possesses extremely attractive versatility despite being the 49ers’ oldest running back by some distance.
Furthermore, UDFA Matt Breida is arguably the most explosive rusher that the 49ers currently possess. Where Breida’s name really starts to enter the mix as a possible sleeper star is through the versatility that Shanahan seems to look for from his backs. Though he did not demonstrate notable receiving ability in college, reports from the offseason thus far have indicated that he does possess at least a serviceable ability out of the backfield. This could see him quickly rise up the 49ers’ running back depth chart.
Regardless of this however, we must not write off Carlos Hyde. He came on significantly as a receiver under Chip Kelly and has consistently shown himself to be an effective runner, even when playing behind one of the most suspect run blocking offensive lines in the NFL. Regardless of Shanahan’s alleged preferences, Devonta Freeman was the starter in Atlanta and Hyde is arguably more versatile than the former Seminole, placing him in a solid position going into training camp.
This nonetheless adds an even greater level of intrigue to the 49ers’ running back situation in 2017, one that seems likely to develop organically throughout the season, particularly as the players acclimatise to Shanahan’s scheme and the younger pick-ups get used to the NFL. The depth chart by Week Seventeen could be radically different to its counterpart in Week One.
If you want to check the pod out and decide for yourself, the first occasion when Benoit mentions Shanahan’s preference is after 5:06 minutes in the pod and the second occasion is after 35 minutes. I would nevertheless recommend listening to the whole pod and indeed the series itself; they are fantastic, informative podcasts.