How Does Trey Sermon Fit With 49ers' Offense?

Photo: Jody Link/online@pnj.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This is the “other” Trey within the San Francisco 49ers’ draft class; don’t let Trey Sermon slip into the shadows of the 49ers’ roster while the spotlight is centered on their third-overall selection, quarterback Trey Lance.

After three seasons at Oklahoma, where Sermon thrived as the bell cow running back in head coach Lincoln Riley’s high-flying offense totaling over 2,000 yards with 22 touchdowns, he made the move to Columbus, Ohio, as a grad transfer into Ryan Day’s program at Ohio State. Sermon formed a formidable backfield duo with Master Teague. At first, Sermon’s transfer was a questionable decision; his role was clearly carved out at Oklahoma, and usually, for a draft prospect with an already ingrained story of success at a Power Five program, a transfer isn’t usually a part of the cards. But, Sermon is different, he always has been; and with a burning desire to raise his already expanding draft stock, there wasn’t a better fit in the entire country. 

“I was looking for a better opportunity and I felt like Ohio State would be a good place for me… I already had a good relationship with running backs coach Tony Alford, we picked up where we left off,” Sermon said in a recent interview with The Draft Network.

But, his relationship and familiarity of friendly faces in Columbus wasn’t the persuading factor in his transfer. It was schematic, and Sermon knew his skill set could thrive donning the scarlet and gray. That skill set, and his development as one of the top ball carriers in the entire class ultimately earned him his third-round selection by general manager John Lynch, who traded up to acquire the battle-tested Sermon on Night 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft.

“We ran a lot of outside zone at Ohio State,” Sermon said. “That was my favorite play.”

Inherently, and projecting his role as a pro, it, in fact, could be his “favorite play” for a long while, as Sermon now hopes to make a similar transition into the NFL into San Francisco’s heavy wide-zone predicated run game. 

At 6-foot, 213-pounds, Sermon is a bruising runner who could prove to be the ideal puzzle piece slotted into head coach Kyle Shanahan's crowded backfield. While Sermon lacks true breakaway speed, his contact balance, ball security, and vision could jolt him up the depth chart with Raheem Mostert’s injury history, and Jeff Wilson—like Mostert—entering the final year of their respective contracts. And as we highlight the pro-ready game of Sermon, his ability out of the backfield hasn’t received the attention it requires. He was underused at Ohio State in the passing game, understandably, but as he looks to earn snaps moving forward, Sermon must prove to be much more than just a threat between the tackles. 

“Ever since my Oklahoma days, I can come out of the backfield and catch the ball,” he said. “You see me making plays down the field in the receiving game. I can catch the ball at its highest point. I’ve done it before.” 

With Lance now under center, Sermon’s three-down ability could be crucial to ease the onboarding process for the 20-year old gun-slinger. San Francisco’s ever-developing offense under Shanahan—a non-traditional offense in retrospect of the below-average usage of running backs in the flat or working vertically on scheduled route concepts—could see major changes when microscoping the ability of Sermon, and Lance’s ability to create with his legs both on and off schedule. 

Sermon is an uber-experienced talent with 455 carries in his back pocket from his time in two of the top programs in college football, and his skill set under the tutelage of Shanahan will require little time to adjust. Sermon’s fit could prove to be one of the steals of the entire class, especially considering the group up front in San Francisco headlined by Trent Williams, Alex Mack, and Mike McGlinchey.

His exact role is yet to be defined, but the 49ers run game will be leaned on heavily in an effort to relieve the pressure off Lance’s shoulders, and Sermon could find himself as the beneficiary in establishing himself as the lead back come mid-season. 

Written By:

Ryan Fowler

Staff Writer

Feature Writer for The Draft Network. Former Staff Writer for the Washington Football Team. Multiple years of coverage within the NFL and NBA.

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