Will Kerryon Johnson be the 49ers’ starting running back?


Kerryon Johnson is set to sign for the San Francisco 49ers after running back Raheem Mostert was ruled out for the season. How will the former Detroit Lions rusher fit into Kyle Shanahan’s offense?

It was initially announced on Monday that Mostert would be out for eight weeks recovering from a knee issue with some torn cartilage that was aggravated during the 41-33 win against the Lions. It was confirmed on Tuesday that the 49ers were shutting their veteran runner down for the rest of 2021 to get his knee properly repaired and begin the long road to the 2022 preseason.

In the NFL, one player’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. After Mostert had two carries for 20 yards in the season opener, sixth-round rookie Eli Mitchell and JaMycal Hasty, who went undrafted in 2020, entered the game and combined for a pair of touchdowns, with Mitchell rushing for 104 yards on 19 carries.

Kerryon Johnson will move straight on to San Francisco’s practice squad, and he could be active for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Johnson spent time with the Eagles in training camp this year before being waived for injury and released at the end of preseason. Niners fans will hope Kerryon Johnson brings more than just intel to their Week 2 encounter.

Will Kerryon Johnson be the 49ers’ starting running back?

If there’s one thing we know about Kyle Shanahan’s offense, it’s that the San Francisco 49ers head coach likes to keep opposing defenses guessing.

Nobody would have known their late-round draft pick Eli Mitchell would carry the load against the Lions, while third-round rookie Trey Sermon did not dress for the Week 1 clash. As one of the NFL’s most creative minds when it comes to scheming up rushing offense, it’s almost as if Shanahan takes pride in utilizing under-the-radar running backs in various roles to outsmart opposing coaches.

Mostert himself was a complementary piece in the 49ers’ offence. His eight starts in 2020 were his only regular-season starts in five years. Those games came after Shanahan let him fly in the 2019 NFC Championship game when Mosert set an all-time postseason record of 248 rushing yards. He became the first player in NFL history to run for 200 yards and score four TDs in a playoff game.

As a former second-round pick, Kerryon Johnson is not an off-the-grid player, but he is a reclamation project, which could be a challenge that inspires Shanahan. Kerryon Johnson’s yards per attempt decreased year-on-year in Detroit – from 5.4 to 3.6 to 3.5 between 2018 and 2020 – but with a more innovating play caller, perhaps the traits that made him a 43rd-overall pick can be unearthed.

It’s unlikely there will be one back in San Francisco that emerges as a bell-cow runner, but if one player stands head and shoulders above the rest of the rotation, they are likely to see more looks. In Shanahan’s offense, every week a different number could be called. Kerryon Johnson has the potential to become a big part of that committee, but first he needs to tap back into that 2018 form.

Edited by Henno van Deventer






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