At Georgia Southern, running back Matt Breida didn’t show that much versatility.
He was a prolific ball carrier, rushing for 3,740 yards and 37 touchdowns over three seasons, but he caught just 22 passes.
Yet with the 49ers, his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield may be one of the keys to Breida’s hopes of making the opening-game roster.
Breida, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, was signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent following this spring’s NFL draft. Though there were some doubts about Breida after a senior season in which his yards-per-carry average dipped to 3.8 following seasons of 7.9 and 8.7, he’s quickly erased them after his performance with the 49ers in organized team activities (OTAs) and recent minicamp. He looked comfortable in the new offense of head coach Kyle Shanahan, who likes to heavily use his running backs in the passing game.
As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, Breida has looked quick and athletic.
“Breida’s speed was apparent during the spring,” wrote Barrows. “He was especially adept at catching short passes and turning up field quickly, which is a staple of Shanahan’s offense.”
Breida went from being a solid draft prospect after his junior season to a question mark when his rushing yards plummeted from 1,609 to 646 in 2016. Jeremy Harper, who writes about Georgia Southern for the website Forgotten5.com, noted that Breida wasn’t injured. He played every game. But there was a coaching change after the 2016 season, and the offense shifted drastically to a triple-option attack that never really found momentum. Then, Breida didn’t get an invitation to the NFL scouting combine.
But, at his pro day for NFL scouts, he ran a 4.37 40-yard dash that would have ranked No. 1 among all running backs at the combine. He also would have been No. 1 in vertical and broad jump and No. 3 in the bench press.
Wrote Harper: “That 40 time is insane, and the rest of the stats seem to indicate the NFL made a grave mistake leaving Breida off the combine list.”
The running back corps, however, will be tough to crack, with Carlos Hyde, fourth-round pick Joe Williams of Utah, veteran free agent Tim Hightower and former Bronco Kapri Bibbs ahead of him. Breida will have to prove he has something special during training camp and the exhibition season to earn a spot. If he can show he’s versatile as a receiver, blocker and special teams player, he’ll have a chance – especially if that speed holds true.