How running back Matt Breida became 49ers' best surprise in 2018


Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at the team’s best surprise.

Running back Matt Breida came to the 49ers immediately following the 2017 draft almost as an afterthought.

The 49ers recruited him, and he signed with the club as an undrafted rookie with the enticement of a $5,000 signing bonus.

The 49ers wanted him. But at the time, they wanted a running back from Utah named Joe Williams a lot more. The 49ers invested a fourth-round draft pick in Williams.

As the 49ers take a step back during their bye week, Williams’ NFL career already appears to be over. Meanwhile, Breida has been the 49ers’ best surprise through 10 games as the team’s starting running back.

[CHAN: 49ers' Matt Breida has faced adversity beyond injury report in NFL]

Breida is the NFL's seventh-leading rusher with 632 yards and three touchdowns. His 5.6-yard average is better than any of the other running backs ahead of him on the list.

Breida has also shown improvement as a pass-catcher with 15 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

“He's worked on it a lot,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Breida's worked on everything.”

Breida was the 49ers’ No. 2 back last season behind Carlos Hyde. His role for this season was in question when the club signed Jerick McKinnon as a free agent.

[MAIOCCO: Matt Breida's long road to 49ers' starting running back, through his eyes]

McKinnon and Raheem Mostert were assured of being suited up on game days, with Mostert serving as the third running back and a core special-teams contributor. That would have left a question whether Breida or Alfred Morris would have been active to open the season.

After McKinnon sustained a season-ending knee injury a week before the season opener, Morris got the first start of the season. Then, Breida took over. Despite dealing with shoulder, knee and ankle injuries, Breida has made every start for the past nine games.

“He worked a lot in this offseason so he could be ready for those opportunities,” Shanahan said of Breida.

In a season that has gone nowhere near up to expectations, the 49ers can enter next season feeling good about the possibilities on offense with a healthy McKinnon and a proven player with Breida as options – on the field, together.

Shanahan was asked this week if he can envision certain offensive packages with McKinnon and Breida in the backfield to pose the threat of more speed, creating dilemmas for opposing defenses.

“I envisioned it this year, so that won't change next year,” Shanahan said.

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