Every day leading up to the start of training camp, 49ers.com will assess the team's roster as we get closer to the season. In this installment of the 2022 training camp preview, we will take a look at the running back position, the team's two fullbacks and how the unit looks to progress in 2022.
Previous Installments: Rookies | Free Agents | Coaches | Tight Ends | Defensive Line | Linebackers
What is a Running Back?
A running back (RB) or halfback (HB) is a position on the offense that carries and runs the ball to gain yards. Running backs can also catch passes and block blitzing linebackers.
A fullback's (FB) primary job is to pave the way and block for the running back. However, they can also be used on the offense to catch passes.
Other names for a running back include:
- Tailback (TB), when the running back lines up behind the fullback rather than next to him.
- Blocking back, a fullback whose main job is blocking.
- H-Back, a player who lines up in the backfield behind the tight end.
- Wingback (WB), a player who lines up in the backfield behind and to the outside of the tight end.
Which Stats are Relevant to a Running Back?
- Rushing yards
- Receiving yards
- Total yards
- Yards per carry
- Forced missed tackles
- First downs
The San Francisco 49ers have had a different leading rusher in each of head coach Kyle Shanahan's five seasons. However, that may change in 2022 after former sixth-round pick Elijah Mitchell had a breakout rookie season, setting a franchise record for the most yards rushed by a rookie (963). Earlier this offseason, Mitchell had a surgical procedure on his knee that he called a "clean-up" from his immense production last season and expects to be ready to go by the start of training camp.
Mitchell will be backed up by Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon and 2022 draft selection Tyrion Davis-Price — a third-round pick who was one of the top running backs in the SEC in 2021 after recording six touchdowns on 1,003 yards.
- Tyrion Davis-Price (1st Season)
- JaMycal Hasty (3rd Season)
- Jordan Mason (1st Season)
- Elijah Mitchell (2nd Season)
- Trey Sermon (2nd Season)
- Jeff Wilson Jr. (5th Season)
- Josh Hokit (2nd Season)
- Kyle Juszczyk (10th Season)
Entering the 2021 season, the 49ers anticipated Raheem Mostert (now with the Miami Dolphins) to be the team's leading rusher. Unfortunately, Mostert had just two carries in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions before missing the remainder of the season with a knee cartilage injury.
Mitchell stepped up immediately for San Francisco. With an average of 18.82 attempts in his 11 regular season games, Mitchell didn't fumble once. The running back finished his rookie season with 963 rushing yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and six touchdowns.
The first-year running back benefit greatly from the blocking of Kyle Juszczyk, who attended his sixth-consecutive Pro Bowl in 2021.
"That's why the (49ers) running game is so good," Philidelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. "(Juszczyk) can clear the holes."
Running Backs Breakdown
Davis-Price was the first of two third-round draft picks (93rd overall) selected by the 49ers in this year's draft.
He appeared in 36 games (16 starts) in three years at Louisiana State (2019-21) and registered 379 carries for 1,744 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns along with 28 receptions for 185 yards.
Last season, Hasty recorded 225 yards on 39 touches, earning a majority of his work on third downs.
San Francisco signed Hasty to a one-year extension in March this year.
In 2021, Mason closed his collegiate career with 2,349 rushing yards, good for 11th-most in Georgia Tech history. He also caught 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown as a Yellow Jacket.
In May, Mason agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
In 2021, Mitchell eclipsed the 20-carry mark five times out of 11 contests played in his very first season in the NFL. Setting the franchise record for a rookie with 963 rush yards, Mitchell took over the RB1 role for veteran rusher Mostert when he was injured in Week 1.
Pro Football Focus ranked the running back in the top-25 of their list of the most elusive running backs from the 2021 NFL season. After totaling 37 forced missed tackles and averaging 0.179 forced missed tackles per attempt, 79.44% of Mitchell's total yardage came after contact.
Selected in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, most of Sermon's production came on special teams. The running back finished his rookie year with 41 carries, 167 yards and one touchdown.
San Francisco re-signed Wilson Jr. this offseason to a one-year deal.
The running back started for the team in Weeks 11, 14, 15 and 16 when Mitchell was hurt and amassed 67 carries and 261 yards in those four games.
San Francisco signed Hokit as an undrafted free-agent in 2020 and he currently stands as a backup fullback.
In his collegiate career at Fresno State, Hokit appeared in 51 games (8 starts) in four years (2016-19) and rushed for 805 yards and 17 touchdowns on 303 carries, also tallying 25 receptions for 153 yards and one touchdown.
Juszczyk is now entering year two of his five-year contract he signed ahead of the 2021 season. The fullback shines in the NFL due to his versatility of elite ball skills and blocking in space.
He registered over 700 snaps this season, notching 30 receptions on 38 targets for 296 yards, 16 first downs and one touchdown.