When news came down that Jerick McKinnon had limped off the field at Sunday's practice, fears of yet another promising running back losing their season to an ACL tear washed over the fantasy community. Luckily, an MRI revealed McKinnon's injury was just a muscle strain. Still, with fellow 49ers running back Matt Breida suffering a minor shoulder injury, San Francisco decided to bring in veteran Alfred Morris to reinforce the backfield. The big question now is whether Morris hurts Jerick McKinnon's fantasy value.
The Shanahan Connection
Morris already has a connection to the 49ers' head coach Kyle Shanahan, whom Morris played under for two seasons in Washington when Shanahan served as offensive coordinator. Here's how Morris performed the last time he was in a Shanahan offense:
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This is further proof that Kyle Shanahan excels in squeezing the most juice out of his running backs. Those numbers made Morris the RB7 in 2012 and the RB19 in 2013, despite averaging just 10 receptions per season. And if you think the 29-year-old running back has lost a step, it should be noted Morris averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 115 touches in relief of Ezekiel Elliott last season, which was actually 0.7 YPC better than Zeke. So yes, Morris is still a very good runner.
What Is Morris' Role?
Well, let me reiterate, Morris averaged just 10 receptions in each of those two blockbuster seasons. In fact, he's never surpassed 26 targets or 17 receptions in a season. He's the polar opposite of Jerick McKinnon, and no one in the NFL is under any allusions to the contrary. Morris will be a between-the-tackles guy, with the potential to be the dominant goal line back as well.
Then again, all of this is supposing Morris actually makes the final 53-man roster, which isn't a given considering how many running backs are vying for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. It's very possible the veteran was brought in to be a sturdy camp body, to serve as motivation and to send a message to the younger backs on the roster who may not be impressing the coaching staff.
What Does It Mean For Jerick McKinnon's Fantasy Value?
Even if Morris ends up playing Week 1, the pass-catching role is still McKinnon's to lose. And that's worst-case scenario. But the team isn't paying McKinnon $12 million to sit out 75 percent of the offensive snaps. They want him to be their main guy, and so long as he stays healthy, he'll get his shot.
And yet, just because this particular McKinnon injury doesn't appear to be serious, doesn't mean those durability concerns go away. One of the biggest knocks against McKinnon is that he's never had more than 160 attempts in a single year, and his body type may not hold up to a bell cow workload. Using Morris as the thunder to McKinnon's lightning just might be the answer to keeping McKinnon healthy all season long. Maybe Shanahan and company are already game planning for that.
This isn't a red alert to sell off McKinnon in dynasty leagues or let him plummet down your redraft board. But any time a veteran player is signed following an injury like this, it should be on your radar. I've bumped McKinnon down just a few notches in my rankings, more due to fragility concerns than Morris' presence. McKinnon's ADP has also dropped a couple of spots down 2.12. He's still a solid RB2 with low-end RB1 upside, regardless of whether Morris sticks around.
Meanwhile, Alfred Morris just became a decent flier to grab in the last rounds of your draft or to stash in deeper dynasty leagues.
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