SANTA CLARA — Let’s go ahead and assume the worst. Christian McCaffrey, Trent Williams and Deebo Samuel are all out for the 49ers’ Monday night road game against the Minnesota Vikings.
That may not be the case. McCaffrey (oblique) was working diligently on the side Friday during practice and looking pretty nimble. Williams (shoulder) stayed hidden, while Samuel (shoulder) appeared to get some work on a side field.
The best guess is that coach Kyle Shanahan proclaims all three “questionable” as the 49ers (5-1) face the Vikings (2-4), and those designations becoming official Saturday.
The cold, hard fact about the NFL is it includes missing your best players from time to time, and the good news for the 49ers is none of the above injuries looks overly serious over the long haul.
If any or all of the big three can’t play, the 49ers will have had a week to prepare. That was part of the problem in the Cleveland loss, with Shanahan saying the ripple effect of plugging in new players who hadn’t prepared for the role had a part in the 49ers’ first loss of the season.
Quarterback Brock Purdy put some of the blame on his shoulders in the aftermath, saying he didn’t communicate well enough in the huddle when players started going down. He thinks things will be different if it happens again on Monday night.
“Those guys will be ready with the reps they’ve gotten going into the operational stuff,” Purdy said Thursday. “If Deebo and Christian are going, great for us. That would be awesome. But the other guys have been preparing great. We’ll be ready to roll with whatever comes.”
A look at who will need to step in if the stars don’t come out on Monday night:
A fifth-round draft pick out of Western Michigan in 2021, Moore has played just 22 snaps in relief of Williams this season. He started twice a year ago — a win against Carolina and a loss to Atlanta — with Williams out with a high ankle sprain.
“On any day, anything can happen,” Moore said Thursday. “I look at it as if I’m starting every week. I’m always ready and this is no different.”
When Williams was out a year ago, the 49ers first went to Colton McKivitz, who couldn’t make it through the Rams game before leaving with a knee injury. Moore took over from there. Unless the 49ers have been working Matt Pryor on the left side, Moore will be the man if Williams — a potential future Hall of Famer — can’t go.
“Jaylon has had a lot of work,” run game coordinator/line coach Chris Foerster said. “Trent had his vet days during camp, doesn’t play in preseason and you do get to see if (Jaylon) has progressed. And we think he has. You don’t know until you play in the games exactly how far, but he’s improved.”
Ray-Ray McCloud, Jauan Jennings, Ronnie Bell
It’s going to take a village to make up for Samuel and his versatile skill set. McCloud is the most likely to be used on jet sweeps and running plays and Jennings as a receiver.
McCloud has just four receptions for 27 yards and was targeted only twice in games against the New York Giants when Brandon Aiyuk was hurt (38 snaps) and Cleveland (44 snaps) after Samuel went down. He’s played 114 snaps overall.
Jennings has seven catches for 127 yards in five games, missing the Arizona game with a shin injury. He’s played 140 snaps with an average of 28 per game and Purdy could be looking his way before third down if Samuel is out.
Bell played just a single snap against Cleveland. Shanahan is notorious for not trusting young receivers but he may need to put the seventh-round pick into key situations against Minnesota.
Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason
Mitchell is healthy for now after a knee injury which sidelined him. His production is undeniable when good to go — 270 carries for 1,291 yards, a 4.8 yards per carry average and four touchdowns in 18 career games. He’s missed 22 due to various injuries.
Against Cleveland, Mitchell took a back seat to Mason because he’d missed time, but could reprise his role as lead back if McCaffrey can’t go.
Mason, an undrafted free agent find last season, has 21 rushes for 117 yards including 10 carries for 69 yards against Dallas. He’s a heavy-legged runner who like Mitchell can get extra yards after contact.
In tandem, Mitchell is the most experienced in the passing game (although not in the same stratosphere as McCaffrey) as a potential third down back.
“Both those guys are looking really good,” general manager John Lynch told KNBR Friday. “Ty Davis-Price is a guy that continues to get better, so we’re confident in that group to function at a high level with our without Christian.”