Running backs seem to be getting less and less important in today's NFL. Well, that's not entirely true ... running backs seem to be getting less and less valuable in today's NFL. The running back position is just as important as it was a few years ago, but there's not nearly as many game-breaking backs in the game today. Teams are finding it easier and easier to get a running back who is good for the yardage they need.
"Good enough" is a phrase thrown around an awful lot when talking about running backs. But at the end of the day, every team in the league still needs someone who can run the ball precisely the way the offense demands, and for the San Francisco 49ers, that demand is pretty high. "Good enough" isn't ... good enough for the 49ers.
Frank Gore has been the guy for the longest time, but his best days are behind him and he can't last more than a couple years at this rate. The 49ers have been addressing the position pretty consistently over the past few years, bringing in Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore.
On Friday, they kept it up, spending a relatively high draft pick (57 overall) on Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. San Francisco originally held No. 56, but traded it away for No. 63, before trading right back up to No. 57 to take Hyde. It wasn't a huge trade-up by any means, but I do think it proves the thought that the 49ers really like him. In other words, San Francisco wouldn't trade up unless they felt like there was some significant opportunity for impact here.
Some have suggested that Hyde is insurance in the event that Lattimore doesn't pan out. Lattimore himself has said that he doesn't quite have the explosiveness and initial burst that he once had -- something that's pretty significantly worrying. They've also suggested that he's insurance in the event that Hunter doesn't pan out or that Gore hits a wall sooner than we figured.
But I don't think that's the case at all. In my opinion, Hyde is the guy the 49ers are drafting to replace Gore. He fits right in with Jim Harbaugh's offense and plays a lot like Frank Gore. While I do still like Hunter a good bit (I can take or leave James at this point ... he just doesn't seem like a great fit in any case), he seems more like a supplemental back than a feature back.
Hyde is a feature back. And while it's not yet fair to say that the 49ers aren't confident in Lattimore or have given up on him, I think the team considers Hyde the feature back of the future and Lattimore the guy who could end up contributing down the line. Lattimore obviously has the make of a feature back, and if he manages to develop into that the solution is simple: the 49ers have two feature-back-quality running backs. Oh no!
I'm excited about what Hyde brings to the table, and I think he's bringing a lot to it. He's not the pick that anybody really expected when it's all said and done, but I think he'll be a boon for the running back position for years to come. Call me an optimist.