SANTA CLARA – Running back Shaun Draughn appeared in 35 NFL games with five different teams before signing with the 49ers on Nov. 2.
A total of six teams have cut him a total of eight different times since he entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2011 from North Carolina. But in a short period of time, Draughn has proved to be indispensable for a 49ers offense that does not have the services of the four running backs that opened the season on the 53-man roster.
Draughn, who turns 28 on Monday, made his first career start just six days after signing with the 49ers due to injuries that sidelined Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush and Mike Davis.
“That’s the thing that I feel like I’ve been missing,” Draughn said. “Other teams didn’t give me this shot, but the 49ers did and I was definitely going to take it and run like a wild man when I got the chance. It’s a blessing to be in this position.”
Draughn bounced around mostly as a special-teams player with Kansas City, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, San Diego. His first taste of the NFL lasted a month when Washington released him at the end of his first NFL training camp.
But he quickly showed his worth as an every-down player since arriving with the 49ers.
In fact, Draughn played every offensive snap on Sunday in the 49ers’ 19-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers ran 56 offensive plays, and Draughn was on the field for every one of those plays.
“We’re fortunate to have him,” 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. “From a protection standpoint, knowing the run game, the pass game, catching the ball out of the backfield, he’s been a tremendous asset to this offense and this team.”
Draughn became the first 49ers running back to play every snap in a game since Frank Gore in Weeks 1 and 3 of the 2010 season, according to Pro Football Focus. Draughn is the only running back in the NFL to play all of his team’s snaps in a game this season. The last running back to play every snap was Matt Forte, who did not come off the field in the Chicago Bears' final game of last season, according to PFF.
“We have wanted to work in other running backs,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “Going in every game these last few games, we wanted to, but Shaun’s done a really nice job. He’s sturdy and he’s running well. He’s running hard. His pass protection this past week I thought was really good. So he’s doing everything as an every-down back.”
In three games, Draughn has rushed for 146 yards on 43 attempts for a 3.4-yard average. He has 17 receptions for 113 yards. He has excelled in blitz pickup as a pass protector.
“I feel like a lot of teams tagged me as a third-down guy that was only thing I could do,” Draughn said. “Pass protection is something I take great pride in. I know there are backs that can do it and backs that can’t do it. It’s just a mentality. Coach Tom (Rathman) has done a great job of coaching me even better on my techniques.”
Said guard Andrew Tiller, “He just sticks his face up in there. He doesn't care who is blitzing. He's going to put his hat in there and pick up that block. Shaun runs hard. I like Shaun back there. He's a good back. I feel like he's getting into a groove. He's got our trust up front."
As well as Draughn has played, the 49ers will need more from him and the run game on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. The 49ers have gone six games without a rushing touchdown. The last 49ers touchdown on the ground came Oct. 11 against the New York Giants in the game in which Hyde sustained a fractured metatarsal in his right foot.
Draughn has appeared to earn the right to return next season with a good chance to win a roster spot as a backup running back and core special-teams contributor.
“If the GM stays the same, I’ll be here,” Draughn said. "I’d love to be here. It’s a great place. It’s a group of guys I can see myself being around for years to come. If they feel like I’m a great fit here, I’ll be here. If not, we’ll have to see what’s next.”