49ers roster: 3rd RB a sneaky-important spot in 2023

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Running back probably isn’t going to show up on a list of 49ers’ roster needs with the NFL draft a little over a month out. That doesn’t mean the position doesn’t come with a little bit of a question mark.

San Francisco has perhaps the most dynamic one-two punch in the NFL atop their running back depth chart with Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell.

McCaffrey joined the team in Week 7 last year and wound up leading the team with 746 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He finished fourth in receptions and receiving yards, and third in receiving touchdowns. He finished second on the team behind George Kittle with 10 total touchdowns. All of that came despite him playing in only 11 games with the 49ers.

Behind him is Mitchell, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry in his second season after posting a team-best 963 rushing yards in 11 games as a rookie. He also finished No. 8 in the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie.

That third spot on the depth chart is one the 49ers will need to figure out though because going into a year relying on 17 games each from McCaffrey and Mitchell could put them and their run game in a tough spot.

While McCaffrey played in all 17 games last year, he dealt with a knee issue that limited him in practice for much of his time with the 49ers. In the 2020 and 2021 seasons he played in just 10 games combined.

But even if McCaffrey’s injury woes are behind him, part of what makes him valuable to the 49ers is the ability to line up a second RB with him. Mitchell, while successful between the lines his first two years between, has missed 18 games with a spate of injuries.

This makes the third RB a sneaky important spot for the 49ers. McCaffrey and Mitchell are both fine players on their own and McCaffrey without Mitchell worked for San Francisco last season. Having an additional, effective RB to slot in if one of them is unavailable would be an immense help in keeping some of the workload off Mitchell or McCaffrey though.

There are two options on the roster with second-year RBs Jordan Mason and Tyrion Davis-Price.

Davis-Price was a third-round pick in last year’s draft and began the year ahead of Mason in the pecking order, but an injury in Week 2 sidelined him for three weeks. Mason, thanks to his ability to play special teams, overtook Davis-Price on the depth chart and the third-round pick wound up either inactive or without a role for most of the season.

Mason looked good in his limited number of carries. On 43 attempts he rushed for 258 yards and a touchdown. Davis-Price was less effective with 99 yards on 34 carries, but his injury combined with inconsistent playing time could be part of the culprit for his struggles.

It stands to reason Mason enters the offseason as the frontrunner, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that Davis-Price makes a jump and lands the No. 3 RB job.

The 49ers have to figure out which of those two players is the better option at RB, or if they need to bring in additional competition.

They’ll bring in more RBs for the offseason, but the investment will depend on how they feel about Mason and Davis-Price. With 11 draft picks to play with, they may target one there if they think there needs to be real competition. If they’re comfortable with the Mason and Davis-Price pairing, then they may go the undrafted free agent route.

While a UDFA wouldn’t necessarily be precluded from competing for a roster spot, it would be an indicator of the team’s urgency if they wait until after the draft to add some depth to the offseason RB room.

Plenty of eyes will be on the QB room this offseason for the 49ers.  Others will be looking at how the team’s defensive front and third LB battle are shaking out, but don’t forget about that third RB spot, which could quickly become one of the team’s most important in 2023.

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Story originally appeared on Niners Wire