Frank Gore has been the 49ers’ workhorse for the past eight years, but he is entering the final year of his contract. He has also accumulated 2,187 carries in his career, which is second most among active running backs. Kendall Hunter has proven to be a capable change of pace back, but some question if he is built to handle a full workload. Sophomore Marcus Lattimore missed his entire rookie campaign due to back-to-back devastating knee injuries and is still looking doubtful to be ready by the start the season. Lastly, LaMichael James has done well with kickoff and punt returns, but may not have what it takes to succeed in the league as a running back.
Enter Carlos Hyde, the future of the 49ers’ run game.
The 6-foot, 230 pound Hyde played for four years at Ohio State and put up impressive numbers. He showcased his ability to be both a bruising runner with 31 rushing touchdowns in his final two season, and a capable pass catcher with 34 receptions throughout his career. Had Hyde not been suspended for three games to start the 2013 season, there was a good chance that the first-team All-Big Ten selection would have been in Heisman trophy contention. The suspension also likely factored into his draft stock falling, which allowed the 49ers to snag him with the 57th overall pick.
Before I get into how Hyde fits with the 49ers, here’s a look at how Hyde’s combine numbers compared to active players in the league per mockdraftable.com:
While his combine numbers don’t back this up, when you watch Hyde on tape, he draws comparisons to the guy he will be backing up to the start the season, Gore. He doesn’t have amazing straight line speed, but makes up for it with his decision making and short area burst. He’s also a tremendous downhill runner who does not go down easily and always seems to pick up extra yards after contact. He’s also got above average pass blocking ability, and displays soft hands as a receiver.
To sum it up, Hyde has the qualities and talent to be an every down back in the NFL.
He has a lot to offer the 49ers for this season and beyond. For 2014, expect him to be the primary ball carrier when the 49ers look to rest Gore, or if he winds up missing any time due to injury. Gore should still see most of the work at the goal line, but let’s not forget that Anthony Dixon scored eight touchdowns in the past four years, all from within three yards. Hunter will probably remain the third-down back, but Hyde has shown that he is more than capable to fill that capacity if need be.
As for the future, if Gore does decide to retire or cannot agree on a reasonable contract with the 49ers, I believe that the franchise will be comfortable in giving the majority of carries to Hyde, with a little bit of Hunter and Lattimore sprinkled in. His ability to score touchdowns from up close will be valuable to an offense that has struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone. He has above average size, power and run strength, and is a perfect fit to go with one of the NFL’s elite offensive lines. Even with the offense transitioning from a run-oriented offense to a a pass-oriented one, Hyde looks to be a key piece in the 49ers’ future.