The San Francisco 49ers have had a somewhat confusing start to the 2022 season, but they still sit in the seventh seed in the NFC playoff picture with a 4-4 record. Coming off their bye week in Week 9, the 49ers now seem poised to go on a nice little run to start the second half of the 2022 season.

The 49ers have dealt with a lot of injuries and turnover throughout their roster this season, and it has led to a bit of an uneven start to the season for them. They have some strong outings where they have looked capable of making a run for the NFC West crown, and others where they don’t even look like a playoff contender.

Chances are things will be evened out in the second half of the season, as the 49ers simply have too much talent to not be a playoff contender down the stretch. There have been some big surprises from the 49ers in the early going this season, but it’s clear that this one move that they made was among the most surprising in the entire league, and could change how the rest of San Francisco’s season goes.

49ers biggest surprise: The trade for Christian McCaffrey

When it was announced that the Carolina Panthers were contemplating trading away their star running back Christian McCaffrey, many teams across the league were shocked and quickly checked in to see what their asking price would be. Those same teams were probably even more shocked to find out that the 49ers of all teams had swung a trade with the Panthers for McCaffrey.

The 49ers sent 2023 picks in the second, third, and fourth rounds, as well as a 2024 fifth-round pick, to Carolina in exchange for the star running back. It’s not as if the 49ers didn’t need a running back, because they did, but it was very unlike the organization to make such a large investment at the position.

During Kyle Shanahan’s stint as head coach of the 49ers, he has relied on running backs such as Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Elijah Mitchell, and Jeff Wilson Jr., to power the offense on the ground. And for the most part, it’s worked. The only one of those guys who wasn’t undrafted was Mitchell, and even then, San Francisco used just a sixth-round pick on him and watched him rush for 963 yards in his rookie season.

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The question was immediately asked of whether or not it was worth it to trade for McCaffrey considering all the success that these running backs had been having in the 49ers offense. Wilson had been holding down the fort with Mitchell on the injured reserve after suffering a sprained MCL in Week 1, and he had been averaging a healthy 5.1 yards per carry prior to being dealt to the Miami Dolphins.

This isn’t to say that McCaffrey isn’t better than any of these guys, because he is. He has shown as much in his first two games with his new team, and he had a particularly special performance in Week 8 against the Los Angeles Rams. But was it worth it to dish out a ton of draft capital to land McCaffrey when other guys were doing just fine at running back for the 49ers this season?

That line of thought is a big reason why this deal was such a surprise. But there’s no denying that McCaffrey’s addition makes the 49ers offense ten times better, and they should seriously be expected to make a run for the top spot in the NFC West over the second half of the season. San Francisco is a game and a half behind the Seattle Seahawks right now for the top spot in the division, and that feels like a reasonable gap for them to close in the second half.

McCaffrey’s addition could be what pushes this team over the top, but again, even that may not be true. The 49ers had a ton of offensive talent in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle at their disposal prior to swinging a deal for McCaffrey. Adding him to the equation makes them all more dangerous, but San Francisco very nearly won Super Bowl LIV with a far less explosive offensive cast.

There’s no denying McCaffrey makes the 49ers better, but the question of whether this deal was necessary or not stands, and it is a big reason why it came as such a surprise. San Francisco has their running back position filled with McCaffrey for the next few years, but the running back position is marred by constant turnover, and there’s no telling how long McCaffrey will remain effective, especially given how much he has gotten injured over the past few seasons.

This deal was undoubtedly surprising, and it will be interesting to see if it continues to pay off throughout the rest of the season like it did in Week 8 against the Rams. If it does, the 49ers could end up as Super Bowl champions in the future; if it doesn’t the front office will likely be kicking themselves for making this deal instead.