Kyle Juszczyk was one of the first free agents acquired by the 49ers in the John Lynch-Kyle Shanahan regime and has been of its most valuable.
He’s a hard-nosed blocker and versatile receiver and has been especially key to San Francisco’s rushing attack this season, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL.
So now that Juszczyk — nicknamed "Juice" — is out with a sprained knee ligament for several weeks, what do the 49ers do to replace him?
Because the 49ers didn’t put their fullback on the injured reserve list, they don’t have a roster spot open to seek out a free-agent fullback — although they could if they decide they must.
With no other fullbacks on the roster, the 49ers are most likely to get creative, perhaps by using tight ends lined up in the backfield as blockers until Juszczyk’s return. They have a pair of backups in Ross Dwelley and Levine Tollolo who could be aligned behind the line of scrimmage, or motioned into position to help clear the way for running backs Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert.
Or, the 49ers could use more two-back sets — but those three running backs aren’t known for their blocking prowess.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan will likely have to get creative to keep the running game rolling. San Francisco is averaging 126.2 yards on the ground while getting off to a 4-0 start.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo told the San Jose Mercury News that Juszczyk is a hard man to replace.
"He does so many different things in the run game and even the pass game where he brings a different element that not many fullbacks can do," said Garoppolo.
Added offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey: "He makes plays all over the field. He's the unsung hero."
Juszczyk had a big game Monday night in the 49ers’ 31-3 victory over the Browns, making a key block on Breida’s long first-quarter touchdown run, while consistently helping holes for Breida and Coleman until he had to leave with his injury. He’s also caught six passes this season for 76 yards.
He’s expected to be out four to six weeks, though Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reported Juszczyk is seeking a second opinion on his knee (diagnosed as a medial collateral ligament sprain) and is hoping to return sooner.
The 49ers will have to quickly figure out a way to compensate for his loss, because they travel to Los Angeles to play the 3-2 Rams Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m.