With Elijah Mitchell listed as doubtful, Wilson Jr. figures to have a significant bump in his workload
Enter Jeff Wilson Jr., the fourth-year running back who is now officially the de facto veteran in the running back room with the absence of Raheem Mostert.
Wilson Jr. just has a knack for finding the end zone, as he has recorded 11 touchdowns over the last four seasons despite carrying the football less than 150 times over that span.
Wilson Jr. brings three-plus years of experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system with him into this week’s game — which is huge considering as well as Mitchell has played. Mitchell has also left quite a bit of yardage on the field as he adjusts to the scheme/speed of the NFL game. This experience and comfortability are why I don’t expect a dramatic drop-off in the production in the run game this week, despite the high bar that has been set by Mitchell & Co. since Week 7.
There is already a track record of success for Wilson Jr. when he has been tasked with leading the backfield for the 49ers. Over the last two seasons, Wilson Jr. has only officially started three games, but he has accounted for 15 touchdowns over that span. His uncanny ability to find the end zone at that rate despite a limited number of touches is beyond impressive.
It’s important to note that Wilson Jr. has had some monster individual performances when he enters a week as “the guy,” famously recording a three-touchdown game in New England in a game he averaged over six yards per carry. In week 16 later that year, Wilson Jr. was a driving force in the 49ers upset over the Arizona Cardinals, as he rushed for over 180 yards at a clip of 8.32 yards per carry.
The Jaguars have actually been impressively stout against the run this year, currently ranking fifth in the league in yards allowed per carry. I do expect them to sell out to stop the run, as the odds are much better for them than banking on their 25th ranked passing defense slowing down one of the hottest passing attacks in the league based on efficiency.
Why this matters is, Wilson Jr. likely sees a larger amount of loaded boxes, and as a result, might appear to struggle to get going. But a game like that would perfectly embody what makes Wilson Jr. so valuable, as even if he struggles to generate a flashy yards per carry figure, I still expect Wilson Jr. to find the end zone multiple times in this game.
At the end of the day, outside of Raheem Mostert, I think Wilson Jr. has been the most dependable 49ers running back under Shanahan, who I expect to lean heavily on Wilson Jr. this week and down the stretch. His return to a prominent role brings a physicality and mentality to this offense that simply cannot be taught. So grab your popcorn, one way or another, it’s going to be the Jeff Wilson Jr. show for the foreseeable future.