49ers offseason preview: No more 3rd-round draft picks on running backs

One of the hallmarks of Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers clubs was the ability to piece together a backfield without unloading big-time draft capital or money at running back. That got turned on its head in mid-October last season when San Francisco unloaded a quartet of draft picks to acquire RB Christian McCaffrey. Now the 49ers have a clear RB1. Whether they’re satisfied with the rest of the roster remains to be seen.

Typically a depth chart like the one the team will roll out at running back is reason to believe no major changes are coming, but it’s not beyond Shanahan and the front office to look for ways to improve at a spot that will be crucial to the development of whichever quarterback lines up under center in Week 1.

Let’s take a look at the 49ers’ backfield in the second installment of our offseason preview:

Who's on the roster?

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Christian McCaffrey
Elijah Mitchell

Tyrion Davis-Price
Jordan Mason

This is the same group the 49ers closed last season with. McCaffrey and Mitchell are a clear-cut top two on the depth chart. Both Davis-Price and Mason flashed in limited opportunities as rookies last season and they should be able to hold down roster spots again this year barring some substantial change to the roster.

Who's a free agent?

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There are no RBs among the 49ers list of free agents.

Free agency, draft, both or neither?

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Draft/UDFA market

If the 49ers are going to draft a running back, they can’t do it until late. They have a handful of picks in Rounds 6 and 7, which would be the only time it would really make sense to go that route. More specifically, they should absolutely not pick one in the third round. It might be more prudent to take fliers at different positions and just snag an RB if necessary on the undrafted free agent market. If the team doesn’t feel good about Mason or Davis-Price, perhaps they invest more resources at the position, but a late Day 3 pick or UDFA should be plenty to fill out the roster.

Looking ahead

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The 49ers are in a good spot with their running backs. McCaffrey is the headliner with a capable group behind him. Two things need to be ironed out over the coming months though.

First, San Francisco has to figure out how to keep this group healthy. A game here and there without one of McCaffrey or Mitchell is one thing, but they can’t keep having their top RBs missing large swaths of games the way Mitchell has in each of his first two seasons. McCaffrey was healthy for the most part last year, but he dealt with some injury problems the two years prior that limited him to only 10 games in 2020 and 2021. The 49ers’ offense is at its best when their run game is rolling.

The second thing they have to decide is how to divvy up the work between Mason and Davis-Price. Mason’s special teams ability often made him active over Davis-Price on game days. Perhaps Mason, a 2022 UDFA, is just a better player. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a late pick or undrafted player to overtake a third-round RB on this team. However, Davis-Price never really got a significant opportunity this year. There’s a real chance he’s capable of taking over a real workload if/when the 49ers have to dip into their RB depth chart. It’s just a matter of whether Davis-Price or Mason is the better RB for this team.

Story originally appeared on Niners Wire