Chip Kelly inherits a 49ers roster that consisted of a group of running backs that has already impressed him.
Two of those running backs, Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris, were plucked from the unemployment line and made a favorable impression in a short period of time with the 49ers last season.
“When I turned the tape on, I was really impressed,” Kelly said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. “Carlos (Hyde) was out, but some of those other guys they were impressive down the stretch. And they were guys they got off the street. There’s some talent at the running back spot.”
The 49ers on Wednesday signed Shaun Draughn to a one-year contract. The journeyman signed with the 49ers at midseason when Hyde was out of action with a stress fracture in his left foot. Draughn appeared in six games, earning his first NFL start just six days after signing with the 49ers. He showed he is capable of being an every-down back.
Draughn was second behind Hyde on the 49ers with 263 rushing yards on 76 attempts. He was fifth on the 49ers with 25 receptions for 175 yards.
Draughn is certainly not guaranteed a spot on the 49ers’ roster, but his ability to play special teams makes him a strong candidate to serve as a backup to Hyde in 2016.
Harris remains under contract to the 49ers. He gained 140 yards on 27 attempts in two games. He also caught nine passes for 97 yards.
The 49ers can also be expected to add a draft pick – and/or an affordable veteran -- to compete for a roster spot behind Hyde, along with Draughn, Harris, Jarryd Hayne, Mike Davis and Kendall Gaskins. Reggie Bush, coming off an unproductive, injury-plagued season, is scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
Kelly has a history of utilizing the running back talents of different styles and body types, but he said he always prefers bigger, physical runners.
“I think one of the misconceptions is that we had a lot of success with LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, so everything thinks that’s what we wanted in a running back,” Kelly said. “But they forgot we had Jonathan Stewart and LaGarrette Blount, also. You don’t always get, whether it’s in college or the NFL, exactly what you’re looking for from a height-weight-speed parameter, so you got to coach what you have.”