One of the biggest mysteries this upcoming season for the San Francisco 49ers is how things will shake out in the team’s crowded backfield. With Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida all capable and competing for touches, it’s unknown who sits where in the pecking order at the moment. While odds are this battle will last well into training camp, one thing is for certain: What Breida has already accomplished can’t be overlooked.
Simply put, Breida was outstanding in 2018. He led the team with 814 rushing yards and his 5.3 yards per carry was good for fourth best in the NFL. In fact, only two other backs in 49ers’ history with at least 150 carries had a higher average in a season. They were Joe Perry with 6.1 in 1954 and Frank Gore with 5.4 in 2006.
Breida also excelled when it came to big plays, as he was one of only six running backs with 10 or more runs of 20-plus yards last season. He did this despite having just 153 attempts. Each of the other five runners on the list had 192 or more.
As far as the passing game goes, Breida showed tremendous improvement over his rookie year. After dropping five of 36 catchable targets in 2017, Breida didn’t drop a single pass on 31 targets last year. He improved his catch percentage by hauling in 87 percent of the throws that came his way in 2018, as opposed to just 58 percent the year prior. Per Pro Football Focus, his 123.3 passer rating when targeted was the fourth best for running backs and his overall receiving grade ranked first.
When comparing Breida to the competition, his numbers in just two seasons already set him apart. Breida’s 814 rushing yards were more than Coleman’s career high of 800 and McKinnon’s 570. Coleman has three 100-plus yard games in four full seasons, while McKinnon has just two in the same time frame. Breida ran for 100 yards or more three times last year alone.
If you want to look at performance in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Coleman finished with 912 yards on 205 carries (4.4 ypc) in 2015-2016 and caught 33 total passes. Breida gained 1,279 yards 258 carries (5.0 ypc) and has hauled in 48 passes.
Overall, Coleman’s career yards per attempt is 4.4 while McKinnon’s is 4.0. Both are well short of Breida’s previously mentioned 5.0 yards per attempt.
If there’s been one perceived knock on Breida so far it’s been his inability to stay healthy. That narrative has been overblown, however. Breida’s played in 30-of-32 games as a pro, including all 16 in 2017. Despite getting hurt early on in 2018, Breida still played through the nagging injuries and only missed two full games.
To be fair, you can just as easily argue the merits of Coleman as a complete back or McKinnon as a dynamic receiver, and both arguments would more than hold water. This isn’t meant to diminish what they’ve accomplished, but instead to highlight Breida and the tremendous start to this undrafted free agent’s underdog career.