How 49ers rookie RB Guerendo uses limited college usage as motivation

How 49ers rookie RB Guerendo uses limited college usage as motivation originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SANTA CLARA — During Isaac Guerendo’s five-year college career, he started a grand total of one game.

And the only reason he started that game was because the starting running back, Jawhar Jordan, opted out of Louisville’s bowl game because he already had declared for the NFL draft.

“It was more of an overlooked-type thing,” Guerendo said. “I think there were always a lot of people put in front of me.”

Guerendo no longer is overlooked.

The 49ers made sure of that when they traded up to select him in the fourth round of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Guerendo and all the 49ers’ first-year players are scheduled to take the field Friday afternoon for the team’s rookie minicamp. The rookies reported to Levi’s Stadium on Thursday.

For Guerendo, it has been quite a journey to wind up in the NFL when simply earning playing time in college was always a challenge.

Guerendo converted from wide receiver to running back upon arriving on the Wisconsin campus in 2019. He was far down the depth chart his first two seasons and served as a backup to Braelon Allen in 2021 and ’22.

Then, he transferred and found himself behind Jordan at Louisville for his final year of college football.

However, in what might come as a surprise to folks in Wisconsin and Louisville, Guerendo was drafted ahead of both players he backed up in college.

Being selected by the 49ers with the No. 129 overall pick. He was chosen five spots ahead of Allen (New York Jets) and two rounds before Jordan (Houston Texans).

“One thing that I pride myself on is if somebody is better than me at something, that’s perfectly fine. It just drives me to continue to get better,” Guerendo said. “I think there were times when I feel like I’m really doing everything I’m supposed to, and I feel like I’m working hard, performing well and I’m still put behind people who might not have been.”

The 49ers evaluated Guerendo as a better pro prospect because of his combination of size (6-foot, 221 pounds) and speed. Guerendo ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, the fastest time among running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine.

His entire college career consisted of 231 rushing attempts for 1,392 yards and 17 touchdowns in 37 games.

“It’s frustrating,” Guerendo said. “You want to contribute and play as much as possible. I think if I were to let it bother me, it wouldn’t have allowed me to be ready for those moments when I did get them.”

The most playing time Guerendo ever received was his final game. With Jordan sitting it out, Guerendo carried 23 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to USC in the Holiday Bowl.

Ironically, the 49ers might have viewed it as a positive that Guerendo was a backup in college and had a lower amount of usage than other running backs in the draft.

“People like to talk about tread on tires. That’s an advantage for me,” Guerendo said. “I have still yet to play my best ball, so I’m continuing to progress and become a better player.

“That’s the exciting thing about it. I’m going to continue to attack and embrace whatever role I’m given.”

Guerendo believes his background will serve him well as he comes to the 49ers, who already feature Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell and Jordan Mason.

After all, he knows what it’s like to wait his turn.

“Going to this level and making this transition is something that helps me,” he said. “A lot of these guys have been the featured guy pretty much since they were young. They were the guy at their high schools, and they were the guy at their colleges.

“Given the fact I’ve already been through it plenty of times, obviously, it’s not going to change my mindset. I’m going to continue to work hard.”

Download and follow the 49ers Talk Podcast