Though his upside remains limitless, Jerick McKinnon’s “Risk” increases, as the 49ers new tailback will be out of action until Week 1, per GM John Lynch. He’s been sidelined with a calf strain, but is tentatively expected to be full-go come September.
Ugh. Once up as high as No.12 overall on my Big Board, McKinnon’s stock continues falling as his injury concerns continue growing. On the positive front, the team clearly knows what they have and value it, as McKinnon will be on bubble-wrap to allow a return to full health instead of risking further injury. Still, in his absence, both the newly-signed Alfred Morris and the versatile and talented Jeremy McNichols will have a shot at securing a larger workload. Keep in mind, dating back to Steve Slaton‘s days, as well as with Morris in Washington, Kyle Shanahan is not opposed to a complete overhaul of his backfield if a better option presents itself, which creates obvious risk for the remainder of the preseason.
Still, considering McKinnon netted the league’s fourth largest RB contract (and will only trail Le’Veon Bell in 2018 annual salary), my original expectation was, and shakily still is, that he’ll be the unquestioned workhorse in Kyle Shanahan‘s gold-mine zone blocking scheme. McKinnon parallels very favorably to Devontae Freeman, who amassed 265 carries and 97 targets in 2015 (362 opportunities), and 227 carries and 65 targets in 2016 (292 opportunities) — 64 more chances than McKinnon’s career high of 218. Freeman was a bonafide RB1 with this work, amassing over 1,500 yards from scrimmage in both seasons (1,634 and 1,541 total yards), along with 14 + 13 TDs, and 73 + 54 receptions respectively. With freakish athleticism and dangerous receiving ability, McKinnon seemed destined for these totals — and still could reach them. In fact, Shanahan’s lead backs have finished Top-10 for three straight years, and Top-15 in 5 of the last 6, so the upside is still real.
But McKinnon’s lack of extensive workloads in the past, plus the missed time to full acclimate himself and also allow others to shine, is worrisome. Let’s see how the others fare in McKinnon’s absence before reacting too aggressively. Still, he cannot be selected over higher-floor second round products any longer, and takes a decent fall down the Big Board.
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