49ers RB Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL making a cut on the final play of Saturday’s practice, and will now miss all of 2018. This is a devastating blow to both the 49ers, who made McKinnon the fourth-highest paid RB in the league, as well as fantasy owners who burned a third or even second rounder to secure his huge upside. The team will now turn to the newly-signed Alfred Morris and sophomore Matt Breida to shoulder the backfield load in a committee. While neither come with McKinnon’s Top-10 ceiling, they are both immediate must-adds in leagues that have already drafted, and should shoot up Big Boards for those who haven’t yet. Kyle Shanahan’s scheme creates enormous upside no matter who’s on the field (three straight Top-10 RBs, five of last six Top-15) and either back could explode in 2018. But who to target?
Likely to shoulder the heavier part of the rushing load, Morris is the RB fantasy owners should turn to first. He benefits from long-term familiarity and a terrific feel for Shanahan’s outside zone-blocking scheme after two years together in Washington; Shanahan handpicked Morris in 2012 as a late-round rookie, and the bruiser rumbled for a whopping 335 carries, 1,613 yards, and 13 TDs. This was followed by a less beastly, but still impressive 276 carries, 1,275 yards, and 7 TDs in 2013.
In his 49ers debut, Morris looked to have plenty of juice even at 29-years old. He took 17 carries for a bruising 84 yards (4.94 YPC), and should be fresh after serving as a backup in Dallas the last two years. Simply put, Morris is a bell-cow style back who gets better the more he’s fed, and is now in line for 15-20 weekly carries in his ideal blocking scheme, including goalline work in an above-average offense. This gives him real 8-10 TD upside to go alongside his 800-1,000 yard ceiling. He’s risen to 70 overall and RB28 in my latest rankings.
Meanwhile, long-slated for the “Tevin Coleman-role,” Brieda brings game-changing 4.39 speed and strong vision to the table. He was already slated for 8-10 weekly looks with McKinnon healthy, and should see this number get a slight increase now in his absence. He’s the higher-ceiling RB target here, as Breida mirrors McKinnon’s freakish athleticism more closely, and already showed well with 465 yards on 105 rushes last year (4.4 YPC). If Morris wears down or isn’t offering much early on, the team could turn to Breida for extensive work, and he has the rushing skill-set to do serious damage — sending him to 108 overall and RB38 in my rankings, just behind James White.
Both Morris and Breida have capped ceilings, however, due to a lack of pass-catching ability, which is crucial for true three-down work in Shanahan’s scheme. Morris averages under 12 receptions a game, while Breida graded out as PFF’s 45th best pass-catching back with a subpar 51.0 receiving grade. Regardless, expect the 49ers to roll out a committee backfield that still comes with immense fantasy upside thanks to Shanahan’s wildly successful ZBZ, with Morris the preferred target around Round 6, and Breida still sexy in Round 9-10.
For a more in-depth breakdown, check out our Featured Piece here.