A dual-threat ball carrier who possess the power to break tackles as a runner and adds versatility as a pass catcher, that's a quintessential running back to Kyle Shanahan. He landed his "top priority" in Jerick McKinnon at the start of free agency on Wednesday.
With the departure of Carlos Hyde, San Francisco had a void to fill. Shanahan announced on Thursday that McKinnon fits the bill and will be the 49ers go-to guy for the foreseeable future.
"He's coming in right now and he's our starting running back," Shanahan said in an introductory press conference. "We're going to always compete and we'll see how that plays out. But obviously we brought him here to be our starting back."
Shanahan didn't need the gaudy numbers and stats to recognize McKinnon's talent. McKinnon produced less than 2,000 rushing yards throughout his four seasons in the NFL as a backup to Adrian Peterson and Dalvin Cook. But Shanahan has been fond of McKinnon's athletic traits since the quarterback-turned-running back's days at Georgia Southern. His tape with the Minnesota Vikings showed the coach all he needed to see.
His best production came in 2017 after Cook went down with an ACL injury. He recorded career high numbers with 570 rushing yards and three touchdowns to add to his 421 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
So what makes McKinnon capable of being San Francisco's featured back? Versatility. McKinnon encompasses the specific traits Shanahan looks for in a running back - physicality as a runner and reliable hands as a pass catcher.
"He's good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He's good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third-down pass threat alone. But when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach," Shanahan explained.
"I definitely think he's an issue for teams."
Shanahan's track record with running backs is something that weighed heavily in McKinnon's decision to join the 49ers. The highly sought after free agent had plenty of potential suitors, but it was Shanahan's offense that tipped the scales in San Francisco's favor.
"I'm just excited to be in an offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me," McKinnon said. "Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta (Freeman) and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kind of things. And for me, the scheme was right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can't be in a better situation as a player."
Taking the reins as the 49ers starting running back, McKinnon is eager for the opportunity to manufacture a new identity with the 49ers, no longer as a rotational piece.
"Ever since I've been in the league, I've been a third-down back," McKinnon added. "That's the tag that's been placed on me. I'm ready to exceed those expectations."