The undefeated 49ers and their top-ranked running game lost another important player due to injury.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who left the blowout victory Monday over the Cleveland Browns in the second half, sustained an MCL sprain to his left knee, the team announced following an MRI Tuesday. He’s expected to miss approximately four to six weeks.
That means Juszczyk is likely out until mid November as San Francisco prepares for a pivotal Week 6 game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday with a chance to improve to 5-0 for the first time in 29 years.
Juszczyk, 28, is the highest-paid fullback in the NFL and has gone to three straight Pro Bowls. He’s played roughly half the offensive snaps this season while the 49ers lead the league averaging 200 rushing yards per game. His impact in Monday’s blowout was felt immediately as he threw a key block on Matt Breida’s 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, among many others during his 34 snaps.
Juszczyk is widely considered the most multifaceted player at his position for his work as a blocker and pass-catcher, which allows coach Kyle Shanahan to utilize heavy formations while still getting production from the passing game.
“I’m always going to use the fullback. I believe in it strongly,” Shanahan said in the spring. “I like having the fullback because the only time you can really dictate the game on offense. If you put three receivers out there, then they can run certain blitzes and stunts where you cannot run the ball. And they can force you to pass and they can force you to do things. When you have a fullback out there, it doesn’t matter how many guys they have in the box, which is nice because if they put a lot of guys in the box it makes it easier to throw.”
Juszczyk’s injury means the 49ers lost four starters in each of their first four games. Running back Tevin Coleman, who returned with 97 yards and a touchdown Monday, suffered an ankle injury in the season opener.
Left tackle Joe Staley fractured his fibula Week 2 and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon suffered a foot injury Week 3, though their replacements Justin Skule and Emmanuel Moseley played well in their places against Cleveland. Additionally, the 49ers recently put receivers Trent Taylor (foot) and Jaylen Hurd (back) on injured reserve, though both are candidates to be given the return designation later in the season.
But unlike Coleman, Staley and Witherspoon, the 49ers don’t have a clear-cut option to replace Juszczyk on the roster. He’s currently the team’s only fullback.
Shanahan would likely go to a committee approach with his tight ends George Kittle, Levine Toilolo and Ross Dwelley. The 49ers have tight end Daniel Helm on the practice squad who played some fullback throughout training camp, as did undrafted tight end Tyree Mayfield who was released during final cuts.