‘We Told You So!’

Matt Breida adds his name among elite NFL rushers

The world is finally figuring out what Georgia Southern fans have known all along — Matt Breida is one of the best running backs in the country. Period.

After two weeks of the NFL regular season with the San Francisco 49ers, Breida was the leading rusher in the league and won the FedEx Ground Player of the Week award. As of week six of the regular season (and Georgia Southern magazine press time), Breida is sixth in the NFL for rushing yards and first in the NFL for yards per carry. Not bad for a player who wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine and went undrafted.

“I felt like I should’ve been drafted the whole time,” said Breida. “It gave me that extra chip on my shoulder. And now that I’m finally on the team that had faith in me and trust in me, it feels that much better. You always want to go where you’re wanted, and just to be here every day, you know, you can’t take anything for granted because so many guys wish they could be in your position. So I’m just happy where I am right now and I just can’t wait to play more football.”

His professional performance shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.

At Georgia Southern, Breida turned in Heisman-level seasons in 2014, when he rushed for almost 1,500 yards and averaged a national-best 8.7 yards per carry; and 2015, when he rushed for more than 1,600 yards and averaged a nation-high 7.9 yards per carry. Even with his disappointing 2016 season (under a first-time head coach and struggling new offense), Breida is still No. 22 on the NCAA’s all-time yards-per-carry leaders. All time.

But it was that 2016 season that made scouts skeptical enough not to invite him to the NFL scouting combine. Their skepticism was proven to be folly, however, at the Eagles Pro Day in March of 2017. Breida dominated the field at the combine even in his absence. He ran the 40-yard dash in a staggering 4.37 seconds, jumped 42” high, and broad jumped 11.2 feet — all measurements that would’ve put him in first place at the combine. He also bench pressed 225 lbs. 23 times, a thirdplace finish.

Breida, left, with McKinnon

In his second year with the 49ers, Breida was going to be part of a Georgia Southern alumni running back duo. The 49ers acquired NFL running back and former Eagle quarterback Jerick McKinnon in a four-year contract worth almost $37 million. Both players were excited about sharing an all- Eagle backfield. On Sept. 1, however, during a preseason practice, McKinnon tore his ACL, which sidelined him for the season.

“When it happened, it was probably one of the worst days I had this year,” said Breida in an interview with NFL Network. “Jerick’s worked so hard to get to this point and to get where he’s at in his career. To see it all end in one day and on one play that was non-contact was pretty freaky and pretty crazy. But one thing about Jerick, he’s going to bounce back. Ever since then, he’s been positive, upbeat. He’s never let this keep him down. And I know next year when he comes back he’s going to have a great year.”

McKinnon has been a cheerleader for Breida on Twitter and on the sidelines. When the two players were at Georgia Southern, Breida was only a freshman and rarely got his number called on the field, but seeing the young running back develop into an elite professional stoked McKinnon’s Eagle pride.

“I think the thing I was most excited about was just to see how far he’s come along,” said McKinnon. “But you know, ever since I got here, he’s been everything a Georgia Southern player is — he works hard, comes to work every day. Head on straight. Just trying to find ways to get better each and every day.”

How much better he’ll get remains to be seen, but Georgia Southern fans will be watching, ready to say, “We told you so!”

— Doy Cave