Jerick McKinnon hasn't played a down of regular-season football for the San Francisco 49ers. The last time the running back took a meaningful snap was Jan. 21, 2018, in a playoff game as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
After signing in San Francisco, an ACL tear wiped out the 2018 campaign before it started, and a setback to the knee injury put him on injured reserve for the entire 2019 season.
Despite McKinnon missing the past two years, 49ers teammates believe the running back looks better than ever in his return.
"Jet has looked phenomenal," fullback Kyle Juszczyk told reporters on a video conference Tuesday, via 49ers Web Zone. "You just would never guess, going out there, and watching the way he practices, how smooth he is, how he doesn't second-guess himself, how quickly he answers questions in meetings, all that kind of stuff, you would never guess that this guy hasn't been on the field for two years.
"He just makes things look so natural, so smooth, that I think there can only be positive things for him this year. I think he's going to have a really good year."
With the changes in the 49ers' backfield, which included trading Matt Breida to Miami, McKinnon could play a big role. The once dual-threat in Minnesota fits Kyle Shanahan's scheme well, which is why the Niners shelled out a four-year, $30 million deal two years ago to obtain McKinnon.
Two years is a long time to miss, however. Without a full offseason or preseason for McKinnon to get his feet wet, we'll have to wait until Week 1 to see how he looks. Until then, the glowing reviews from teammates provide an optimistic view.
McKinnon is expected to share backfield duties with Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. It's a pretty good trio for the Niners to deploy, with each owning the skill set to carry the load if needed. In Shanahan's hot-hand approach to the backfield, McKinnon could carve out a role if he's as healthy as teammates suggest -- and if he stays healthy for the whole year.