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Fantasy football hype train of the day: Jerick McKinnon

Jerick McKinnon’s hype train has come in. Should you get on board for the 2020 fantasy football season?

San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon (28) conducts a press conference after training camp at the SAP Performance Facility. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially now in the hype season, or as we call it, NFL training camp. This is a time where you will hear plenty of praise for players from coaches, teammates and beat reporters. Maybe it’s a simple as someone slimming down and adding muscle or a receiver finally getting contact lenses or last season a player’s shoes were too tight, but now they’re nice and comfy. Whatever the hype, as fantasy players, we hear it as affirmation about a player we like or hollow praise about a player we don’t like.

Throughout camp we’ll keep an eye out for the hyped player of the day and see if the praise is something we should take notice of or disregard. For today, that player is 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon.

McKinnon is returning from two seasons stuck on the shelf due to a right knee injury, but his most recent comeback has him on track to suit up on game day once again. The 49ers feel good about Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman as the 1-2 punch on the ground, but McKinnon is the best receiver in the backfield. The team traded away Matt Breida, giving McKinnon a clear shot at work if healthy. Coach Kyle Shanahan is an equal opportunity running back employer and a healthy McKinnon fits perfectly into his plans on offense.

The hype

Is the hype real?

Whenever you hear that a player is “in the best shape of his life,” you have to do a double or triple take. The words are mostly hollow, but for McKinnon, two seasons away from the game puts his threshold of hype a little lower than others. McKinnon showed in Minnesota that he can be a top receiving back in the league with 142 receptions through four seasons, so the ability is there.

If we were talking about any other offense, we would barely take notice of McKinnon this season, but the 49ers use of their running backs is outstanding. As a team, their running backs rushed for 2,051 yards and 19 touchdowns and caught 77 passes for 753 yards and six more touchdowns last season. Those reception numbers would have likely been higher if McKinnon was in the fold.

The hype for McKinnon is based on how he looks, but it should be based on the offense and role he could take in that offense.

Is the hype too much?

The hype probably is too much. McKinnon has missed two seasons for one knee injury and that is extremely difficult to overcome. But I’m not here to tell you he has slowed down or will get injured again, because I’m no soothsayer. The odds are against him, but the situation today isn’t. Everyone who has seen him run and cut has been impressed and he has the inside track for the third running back job on a great team for running back production. Those are all positives you can’t overlook.

In the end, McKinnon’s fantasy upside is based on how healthy his knee is and if it can take a season of work. And if you want him on your fantasy team, you won’t want to invest much draft capital. Right now that is possible, as he is the 87th running back off the board in half-PPR leagues and 309th overall. As long as he is a late-round flier, the investment to see if his knee can hold up is worth it.