Kyle Shanahan has been lauded as a ground game savant and one of the greatest offensive minds in the NFL for the better part of the past decade. His success is most notably due to having a head coach father and having early success with talented RBs in Atlanta. When looking at the final stats for teams he has been either the head coach or offensive coordinator for the past ten years a pattern emerges.
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In the last decade Shanahan has led his teams to a top 3 finish in scoring 3 times and 4 times into the top 5 in rushing yards. What’s concerning is that in the other seven years of scoring he’s coached a team to below 20th and half the time his team finished below 15th in rushing.
When diving into detail the teams that finished highly in rushing and scoring for the season it is easy to see why those teams were successful (hint: it’s not Shanahan).
Breaking down the teams that finished top 5 in rushing they were the 2012 Washington Football Team (editor note: team name changed), the 2013 Washington Football Team, the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, and the 2019 San Francisco 49ers.
Taking a closer look at each team, the 2012 and 2013 Washington teams were led by the duo of Alfred Morris (6th round pick) and Robert Griffin III. Also contributing to the rushing totals on the Washington team was Roy Helu Jr. (a 4th round pick). These two seasons were Griffin’s first season in the NFL and contributed mightily to the success of the ground game. After Griffin was injured in his 3rd season Morris and the whole offense never experienced the same level of success.
The next team that Shanahan “guided” to a top 5 finish in rushing was the 2016 Atlanta Falcons. Their ground game was led by Devonta Freeman (4th round pick prior to Shanahan’s arrival in Atlanta), and Tevin Coleman (3rd round pick). This team also finished top 5 in passing yards and had the misfortune of losing in the superbowl to the Patriots. It can be argued that the rushing game was more a by- product of the passing game being so dominant more so than a product of Shanahan’s genius.
The 4th and final team to break down is the San Francisco 49ers. This team was led in rushing by a menagerie of players none of whom had over 800 yards individually. Raheem Mostert (UDFA prior to Shanahan’s arrival), Matt Breida (UDFA), and the aforementioned Tevin Coleman who had just signed with the 49ers. Of all 4 teams that Kyle Shanahan has helped finish top 5 in rushing this team is possibly the most impressive due to the patch work of players.
In the past 10 years (not including 2021) teams that Shanahan has been either the offensive coordinator or head coach on have drafted six running backs. Four of which were in the fourth or third rounds. The two that were taken in the third rounds (almost identical draft capital to Sermon) were Coleman and Terrance West. The fourth round picks were Roy Helu Jr. and Joe Williams. Three of those names failed to ever make a major impact or have more than 50 rushing attempts in an NFL season before they were ushered out of the league.
Tevin Coleman did manage to eke out a respectable career but never topped 650 yards in a season. The only running back drafted by a team that Shanahan had a hand in that managed to crack 1000 yards was Alfred Morris, a 6th round pick. I say all this to dispel the notion that Trey Sermon will 100% hit due to Shanahan taking him early.
As for Sermon himself he has the requisite size to be an NFL running back but with 28th percentile speed (https://www.playerprofiler.com/nfl/trey-sermon/) and a college market share of below 17% it is hard to see him living up to his current ADP. He does have very good agility and burst for a back his size which fits the zone run scheme the 49ers use well. I do not see him having the talent or ability to take over the 49ers backfield all by himself.
As incumbents Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are both more explosive and have experience on their side. However both have a lengthy injury history so Sermon may have his opportunities to take that back field. If he is available in the early parts of the 2nd round in your rookie drafts feel free to take him. But if you are taking him in the 1st round ahead of players like Travis Etienne, Rashad Bateman, and Jaylon Waddle you are going to regret it.
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