49ers: 5 players poised for breakout seasons in 2020

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3. Jerick McKinnon, RB, 49ers

Like Thomas, 49ers fans have been waiting a long time for Jerick McKinnon to make an impact on the field. Like Thomas, this is probably the last chance McKinnon is going to get.

McKinnon began his career with the Minnesota Vikings. While he was an inconsistent runner, he showed strong route-running and pass-catching skills. His work in the passing game clearly caught the attention of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers signed McKinnon to a four-year contract worth up to $30 million before the 2018 season. Many pundits were critical of the move at the time.

As the running back position has become less valuable, it seemed questionable for San Francisco to invest so much cap space in someone who’d never been a primary option. In the end, the critics were right.

Severe injuries have prevented McKinnon from playing a regular-season snap in either of the last two seasons. The 49ers haven’t noticeably missed his presence as unheralded signings like Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert stepped up to fill the void.

McKinnon and San Francisco technically restructured his contract this offseason, but for salary cap purposes the outcome was equivalent to the 49ers releasing him before re-signing him at the league minimum.

Even more than with Ward, betting on McKinnon with his recent injury history is a pretty precarious bet, but the stars have aligned for a strong season.

With both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk’s status for the start of the season in question, Shanahan is going to be more reliant on other pass-catching options like McKinnon.

Of the four most experienced running backs (Mostert, Breida, and Jeff Wilson), McKinnon is by far the best suited for an expanded role.