Raheem Mostert may soon face some stiff competition for carries from a new addition to the San Francisco 49ers backfield over the offseason.
Running back Trey Sermon, drafted in the third round out of Ohio State, has impressed the Niners’ coaching staff during early offseason activities — a chance he has gotten, in part, because of injury concerns throughout the position group.
Sermon has taken more snaps as first team running back than any other player on the roster. The early exposure to head coach Kyle Shanahan’s complex run scheme makes it all the more likely that Sermon could see meaningful minutes early in the season.
“Being able to step in a huddle, hear the verbiage, and go execute their assignment, that’s the biggest step forward (rookies can take),” Mike McDaniel, Niners offensive coordinator, said. “Just literally being out there and being able to operate.”
“Once they do that, then there’s a million things that you can coach them up on, which is the value of OTAs,” he continued. “We can get them an idea of what they need to be focusing on moving forward so that when we build in training camp and throughout the season … they can perform at their best.”
Injuries Have Opened the Door For Sermon to See Field in Rookie Season
San Francisco struggled mightily with injury last year, particularly at the running back position. That narrative has not changed this offseason.
Jeff Wilson, the Niners leading rusher in 2020 and slotted as the projected No. 2 running back heading into this season, tore a ligament in his knee after a leg workout in the weight room in late May. Wilson also missed four games with injury last season.
Mostert, the 49ers top running back, missed eight starts last year. Out of an abundance of caution, San Francisco decided to keep him out of most practice activities during OTAs, which has opened the door for Sermon to receive most of the snaps.
The fact that Sermon was granted that experience shows that the Niners coaching staff already had the rookie on their radar as the No. 3 running back heading into camp. With Wilson expected to miss several weeks at the start of the season, Sermon will presumably enter his first year in the NFL at second on the team’s depth chart.
Sermon Could Step in and Contribute Immediately to Niners Offense
49ers brass has made no public indication that Mostert’s starting job is in jeopardy, but the running back’s recent injury history could provide early opportunity for Sermon to take starting snaps in real NFL this year. Should he get the opportunity, it’s a job the rookie rusher may not soon relinquish.
Sermon rushed for 870 yards and four touchdowns in just eight games with the Buckeyes last season, on the team’s way to a berth in the National Championship Game.
He also caught 48 passes for 486 yards and three touchdowns out of the backfield throughout the course of his entire career, highlighting his potential as both a bruising runner and a dual threat in Shanahan’s offense.
Sermon is also familiar with the Niners’ preferred style of run offense, studying it in depth two offseasons previous to help with his transition from the Oklahoma Sooners to Ohio State’s outside zone run scheme.
All of that is to say that if Sermon gets a chance to start — which odds dictate is a scenario likely to arise this season, either through injuries to other players and/or Sermon’s own potential for exemplary performance — the running back will be ready. Once he takes off, there’s not telling just how far he’ll fly.