How 49ers' loaded group of RBs could pan out in 2021 season


The 49ers are heading into OTAs with a crowded backfield of very talented ball carriers. 

As the 49ers spend more time on the field, the 2021 plan for the running backs will begin to come into focus. After an injury-plagued season, head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch clearly felt the need to add depth to Bobby Turner’s group of backs. 

Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and JaMycal Hasty each spent time on injured reserve in 2020. All three are returning and will be joined by former New York Giants running back Wayne Gallman, who the team signed to a one-year deal during the offseason. 

In the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers used a third-round pick on Ohio State’s Trey Sermon and a sixth-round selection on Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah Mitchell to add even more depth to the group. 

If everyone stays healthy, how will the 49ers utilize the six running backs? We take a too-early look at how each of them could fit into Shanahan’s system. 

Raheem Mostert

After appearing in every game and leading the team in rushing in 2019, Mostert was only healthy enough to hit the field in eight contests in 2020. The fact that the former Purdue running back still recorded the second-highest rushing yard total on the team is enough to show that he will head into the coming season as the lead back once again. 

Mostert has been a standout receiver, as well. He is the leader of the group and likely will be listed as the “starter” when the season kicks off in September. Look for Shanahan to use the veteran back all over the field as he has done in the past. 

Mostert is the most experienced of the group and likely will get the most carries, assuming he can stay healthy. Even still, since taking the helm of the 49ers, Shanahan has yet to have an every-down back. Expect Mostert to share some carries with other members of the group. 

Jeff Wilson Jr. 

Wilson Jr. only appeared in 12 games in 2020, but still led the team with 600 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. The undrafted free agent also was an effective receiver, registering 13 catches for 133 yards and three touchdowns. 

As Wilson enters his fourth season with the club, he will resume his place on the field as the goal-line back. Known for going to a “dark place” on game day, the former North Texas back likely will also be used in third-down situations. 

If Wilson returns to camp healthy and as focused as he has in the past, the new additions will have some work to do to unseat him as one of the top carriers in the group. 

Wayne Gallman 

A little more than a week before the draft, the 49ers singed Gallman to a one-year contract. Not knowing who they would have the opportunity to draft, San Francisco's brain trust knew the importance of adding experience and talent to the roster. 

Gallman is coming off of his most productive season in the league. In 2020, he led the Giants with 147 carries for 682 yards and six touchdowns. He also recorded 21 receptions for 114 yards. 

Gallman is a wildcard heading into the 2021 season. He will be competing for time on the field with all of the backs, but if he quickly adapts and thrives in Shanahan’s system, there is also a possibility that he unseats Mostert or Wilson for the most reps on the field. 

Trey Sermon

The 49ers did not spend a third-round pick on Sermon with the intention of him sitting on the bench. After transferring from Oklahoma, Sermon watched a lot of 49ers' game film to prepare for the outside zone system he was going to be in at Ohio State. As a result, his transition to the NFL could be very rapid. 

Sermon closed out his single season as a Buckeye with 116 carries for 870 yards and four touchdowns. He also hauled in 12 receptions for another 95 receiving yards. This was all while splitting time in the backfield with another player, Master Teague, who carried the ball nearly as many times (104) as he did. 

Running backs coach Bobby Turner was in close contact with Sermon throughout the pre-draft process, which prepared the rookie for what to expect in his first NFL season. If he can quickly adapt, Sermon could beat out the competition for the second or third spot on the depth chart. 

JaMycal Hasty 

Hasty’s opportunity to show his abilities in 2020 was quickly cut short after suffering a broken collarbone in Week 10 and subsequently being placed on injured reserve. The undrafted free agent appeared in eight games, registering 39 carries for 148 yards and one touchdown. He also caught seven of his eight targets for 33 yards. 

Hasty will be in competition for a rotational spot among the backs and could also be a contributor on special teams. He returned three kicks for a total of 57 yards in 2020, a 19-yard average per return.

Among all the 49ers' backs, Hasty has the most to prove during the offseason if he wants to claim a significant role. He also is a candidate to return to the practice squad.

RELATED: Two under-the-radar 49ers rookies make big first impressions

Elijah Mitchell

The 49ers used their sixth-round pick on Mitchell, who still has a chance to be more than a rotational player if he can prove himself throughout the offseason. More than likely, though, he will need to prove himself capable of playing on special teams.

The odds are stacked against Mitchell becoming the lead back in his first NFL season, but strangers things have happened. If he had been on the 49ers' roster in 2020, he would have had an opportunity to start with the top three ball carriers spending significant time on injured reserve. 

Like Sermon, Mitchell was in close contact with Turner throughout the pre-draft process, which should facilitate his transition into the NFL. If he is unable to make the final 53-man roster, Mitchell could end up on the practice squad, contingent upon him not getting poached by another running back-needy team. 

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