Roster breakdown: RBs
Starters: Kevan Barlow (halfback), Fred Beasley (fullback) Backups: Terry Jackson, Jasen Isom, Jamal Robertson Practice squad: Maurice Hicks, Matt Stanley What's new: Barlow steps in as the featured back to replace Garrison Hearst, who produced three 1,000-yard seasons and led the team in rushing four times during his time in the main role. Isom moves in as the backup fullback, a role handled in previous seasons by Jackson, who will be used more now at halfback. What's to like: Barlow has great talent and is a unique blend of size, power, shiftiness and football instincts. He turned his December audition last year into a coming out party, finishing with a 1,024-yard season despite just four late-season starts in place of an injured Hearst. That set the stage for this year, where Barlow is in even better shape and appears ready to take on a central role in the offense and on the team in general. He also has displayed leadership and maturity this summer and could become the complete package. Beasley will play a big role in any success Barlow might enjoy, because he's perhaps the best blocking fullback in the NFL and certainly is one of the league's best all-around players at that position after earning his first Pro Bowl berth last year. Jackson is versatile and can help in one-back situations, and Robertson's elusiveness could produce some damage when the Niners throw him backup carries. What's to wonder about: Despite his flash and potential and great late-season surge last year, Barlow is still somewhat unproven as the featured back, only because he must show he can handle the role over an extended period. He must also display he can take care of the football and be the improved pass blocker he appeared to be this summer. Beasley enters the season with a high ankle sprain that has bothered him for a month, and one of the last things the San Francisco offense needs to see is a gimpy Beasley. If Barlow goes down, there are serious questions whether the Niners have somebody that can adequately take his place over an extended period. Key preseason stat: Robertson was the Niners' leading preseason rusher for the third consecutive year, finishing with 132 yards rushing and a 4.6 average to hold off a strong challenge from Hicks The bottom line: The Niners could be an even better running team with the 1-2 punch of Beasley and Barlow in the backfield, but a lot of things must shake out right for that to happen. First, Beasley needs to be in the lineup at full strength, which is unlikely to be the case at the start of the season. Second, the revamped line must do its part up front. Barlow is certainly ready to do the rest, so if the Niners can develop the running aspect of their attack from the get-go, it could prosper quickly and carry the young offense in the early going while opening opportunities for the unproven passing game.
Niners Digest Top Stories
Marshall Can't Fathom Kaep's UnemploymentDenver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall doesn't understand why quarterback Colin Kaepernick is unemployed.
Mile High HuddleYesterday at 2:20 PM
Buffalo Bills Offensive Stat ProjectionsLooking forward to the 2017 Fantasy Football season, Senior Expert Shawn Childs provides offensive stat projections for every team in the NFL.
Scout FantasyTuesday at 10:58 AM
NFL changes overtime, roster movesThe NFL passed a few resolutions Tuesday at the owners meetings, some of them pretty significant in the way the game and rosters are managed.
Thomas Wants QB Battle Decided EarlyDenver's Pro Bowl wideout would rather the team's quarterback competition be decided early in training camp. But is that a realistic ambition?
Mile High Huddle07/09/2017
2017 San Francisco 49ers Team OutlookSenior Fantasy Football Expert Shawn Childs provides an in-depth look at the new-look San Francisco 49ers as they rebuild under new leadership and a new coaching staff.