Jerick McKinnon has high expectations, both for the 49ers and for fantasy owners. So it was a scare on Sunday when McKinnon went down at 49ers practice, grabbing the back of his leg as trainers descended upon him. While it wasn’t ruled as a serious injury, McKinnon was shut down for the day and was scheduled for an MRI.
McKinnon had a quiet preseason debut for the 49ers, rushing three times for a loss of four yards. McKinnon is best utilized as a receiving back, and he added one catch for seven yards.
McKinnon got a major payday to leave Minnesota for the Bay Area, signing a four-year deal worth $30 million. He was specifically targeted by head coach and offensive mastermind Kyle Shanahan, and figures to play a heavy role in Jimmy Garoppolo’s offense this season.
Of course, there are risks associated with giving McKinnon such a large deal. The biggest have been questions about his workload, which has been relatively light and inconsistent through his first four NFL seasons. That being said he’s coming off the most productive season of his career, when McKinnon was forced into an increased role following a season-ending injury to Dalvin Cook.
McKinnon split rushing duties with Latavius Murray for the Vikings, but still finished with over 200 touches and just over eight yards per catch.
With McKinnon on the mend, the running back situation in San Francisco could be wide open. Kyle Shanahan loves to pass to his back, one of the biggest reasons he went out and paid McKinnon. But now he and Matt Breida are both injured, with Breida dealing with a knee injury for the remainder of preseason.
From a fantasy standpoint, it crushes McKinnon’s rising value. He’s been steadily increasing in ADP throughout the summer, with aggressive PPR owners looking to snag him as high as the second round. That might drop with the recent news, but you’ll have to weight the risk against what could now be perceived as a value.
Breida also has value as a late-round sleeper, and his value increases drastically if McKinnon’s MRI reveals anything serious.
After those two, the deep sleepers to target are Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols. Williams is a second-year back from Utah who dealt with injuries in his first season, and he led the team in carries in their preseason opener. McNichols, formerly with Tampa Bay, had three carries for 15 yards in the opener and is fighting off Raheem Mostert for the bottom spot on the depth chart.
Mostert is on his seventh NFL team since 2015, and is fighting for a roster spot. He might have been the best overall back against Dallas, but losing a fumble hurts his chances of staying on the team.
Regardless, it’s not a good start for the Niners running backs. This is supposed to be one of the top offenses in football this season, highlighted by the first full year of Jimmy Garoppolo as a starting quarterback. McKinnon is still going to produce this season, but I still don’t think he has the value of a second round pick.
In deeper leagues, I’d consider giving Joe Williams a look. Other than that, we have to wait and see what the MRI reveals.
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