On Friday, April 30, they may have found their running back of the future in the third round.
The team traded up, sending two fourth-round picks (No. 117 and No. 121) to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a third-round selection (No. 88). The 49ers used the newly-acquired pick to select Ohio State Buckeye running back Trey Sermon.
After the choice was announced, Raheem Mostert took to Twitter with words of welcome for Sermon. He had another, more subtle message for their common franchise. Mostert is the presumptive RB1 on San Francisco’s backfield depth chart entering the coming season.
Mostert’s tone was affable enough in regards to the rookie, with whom Mostert will compete for reps as part of the first offensive unit. His next sentence, however, appeared directed at the team.
“We’re packed to the ceiling,” Mostert wrote.
It is hard to make the case that the running back was overt, offensive or even out of line with the comment, which suggested that the running back stable was already pretty full before the 49ers spent significant draft capital to add another horse to the race.
But established NFL starters who consider themselves still in their primes do not historically take kindly to teams drafting rookies at the same position — particularly not when the teams move up in the draft to pick them. (See: Aaron Rodgers and the fallout with the Green Bay Packers after the team drafted Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with its first-round pick in 2020.)
Mostert just turned 29 years old but has played only six seasons in the NFL, appearing in 58 games during that time.
How Does Sermon Stack Up Against Mostert?
Mostert will begin training camp as the top option for the 49ers. He is also the likely choice to start in Week 1 unless there are injuries, shake-ups in the preseason or Sermon simply shows up talented and prepared enough from day one to swipe the job.
Now in his fourth year in San Francisco, Mostert played in all 16 games in 2019, gaining 952 total yards from scrimmage and scoring 10 touchdowns in a rotational role that saw him come in off the bench in every regular season contest. He assumed the starting role in 2020, starting all eight games in which he played and gaining a total of 677 yards from scrimmage while finding the end zone three times. He left two of those contests early with injuries.
Sermon, who played his first three collegiate seasons at Oklahoma, racked up 2,076 rushing yards and 22 rushing touchdowns as a Sooner. He also made 36 catches for 391 total receiving yards in that time. During the Buckeye’s COVID-abbreviated 2020 season, Sermon rushed for 870 yards on 116 carries (7.5 yards per carry) for four touchdowns on the way to a Big 10 Title and a National Championship Game appearance.
Sermon is the Latest Move in a Busy Week For the 49ers Backfield
San Francisco made its first big backfield move on Thursday, April 21, when they signed former Giants running back Wayne Gallman Jr. to a one-year deal.
The 26-year-old Gallman is a four-year veteran of the NFL. He posted the best campaign of his career in 2020, rushing for 682 yards on 4.6 yards per carry after stepping into a starting role for the injured Saquon Barkley. Gallman also found the end zone six times and has plans to compete for snaps as part of the loaded 49ers backfield.
On the same day San Francisco drafted Sermon, the team parted ways with a running back who had been on the roster for the previous three years. Jerrick McKinnon signed with the Kansas City Chiefs on Friday, bringing to an end his turbulent run in the Bay Area.
Knee injuries kept the running back sidelined for the entirety of the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. McKinnon appeared in all 16 games for the 49ers last season, amassing 572 total yards from scrimmage and scoring five touchdowns. However, when the backfield was healthy, McKinnon took a backseat to both Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr.
Wilson Jr. served as one of Mostert’s backups to start the season but ended up leading all 49ers running backs in yards from scrimmage in 2020. He will return as part of the unit this year.
Sermon has his work cut out for him, joining a stacked backfield in the bay. Injuries will likely play a key role in who will earn the most reps between the 49ers four talented running backs, which is presumably a main reason San Francisco has valued depth at the position this offseason.
One thing, however, is clear — injuries or not, competition will be heavy on the 49ers in 2021, and that fact is not lost on Mostert.