Marcus Lattimore was one of the top running backs in college when he was playing at the University of South Carolina. During his junior year he suffered a gruesome knee injury that ultimately ended his collegiate career. Because of that knee injury, his draft stock plummeted. He went from being a possible first rounder to being drafted in the fourth. Lucky for him, a team drafted him that could afford to sit him a whole year while he properly rehabbed his knee. It was a team that already had an established veteran at the running back position. That team was the San Francisco 49ers.
When the 49ers drafted Lattimore it was obvious what they were doing. They were investing in their future. Current starter Frank Gore won’t be around forever and the organization knows this. Using a fourth round pick on the best running back in the draft and Gore’s eventual replacement was a no-brainer. But after the 2014 draft, it became much less obvious what the 49ers had in mind for Lattimore. They drafted Carlos Hyde out of Ohio State University in the second round.
So with Gore, Hyde and Lattimore, what are the plans? For this season, the plan is to use Gore as their feature back and get him a little more rest each game by giving Hyde and Lattimore some carries. This season will most likely be more of a running back by committee situation than the 49ers have ever had. Gore is the kind of player you want to keep fresh for the playoffs, so you might see his carries in the regular season drop significantly.
As far as this season goes, I fully expect Hyde to get more carries than Lattimore. Hyde is more ready and built a little better for what this offense likes to do. When Lattimore touches the ball, he will be more likely to break an 80-yard run than Hyde. With these three running backs and the 49ers’ offensive line, it won’t be hard for that offense to really wear defenses out.
Past this season is a different story. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up being Gore’s last season and the 49ers are left with Hyde and Lattimore taking almost all the carries. Having those two splitting carries is extremely formidable for the opposition, but I don’t expect it to be an even split. Hyde would be the back to get more carries, mainly due to his lack of injury history and his body is just built better for holding up for the long haul. If I had to compare this tandem to another running back tandem, it would be DeAngello Williams and Jonathan Stewart from the Carolina Panthers.
Both of those backs were extremely good and they never let their egos get in the way of what the team was trying to do. Their stats weren’t as good as they could have been if it was just one or the other in Carolina, but they both knew it was for the best for the team and for the length of their respective careers.
Hyde and Lattimore will be the same way. They’re both smart enough to realize what is at stake. Hyde is perfect for short yardage situations, catching passes and really wearing down the defenses. Lattimore is perfect for finding lanes on the cut backs (a la Frank Gore) and getting significant chunk yardage.
Some people viewed the drafting of Carlos Hyde as bad news for Lattimore. I saw it a different way. I saw it as the 49ers knowing what they already have for the future and the ability to add another potential star to that. Hyde and Lattimore will be a very hard tandem for defenses to game plan against, especially when you throw in the running abilities of their quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers’ identity on offense for quite some time has been the ability to run the ball and run it powerfully. With these two backs, don’t look for that to change anytime soon.