How the 49ers RB competition might shake out

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at how the rushing attempts may be split with a new-look backfield.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers rushed the ball 505 times. Of those, 401 belonged to the team's halfbacks Frank Gore (276), Kendall Hunter (78), LaMichael James (12), and full backs Anthony Dixon (28) and Bruce Miller (7). The lion's share of the remaining attempts went to quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with receivers and backup QB Colt McCoy plucking a few here and there.

Dixon -- and maybe James -- won't be in the Niners backfield this season, making way for pseudo redshirt sophomore Marcus Lattimore and rookie second-round draft selection Carlos Hyde. That's the potentially easy part; knowing that the team will still be rotating four ball carriers. The tricky part is figuring out how many carries each will get.

Lattimore recently sat down with 49ers.com's Taylor Price to talk about the upcoming position battle.

If I were a betting man like Fooch, safe money would be on Gore remaining the featured back by a wide margin. Perhaps his rate of HB/FB carries -- 69 percent -- will come down a bit due to age, but so long as he stays healthy, how low would that go? Maybe down to 65 percent?

A healthy Lattimore along with a true, bruising back in Hyde could be enough to make that happen. And, so long as he isn't traded himself, Kendall Hunter will get his due as well. So, there's plenty of reasons for the 49ers coaching staff to not put so much of the burden on the shoulders of The Inconvenient Truth.

Let's assume that all four of those guys make the squad. What will their roles be?

We've covered that Gore will remain the featured back, so long as his legs and steady production remains.

The third-and-short, goal-line job, along with some redzone scenarios, is probably Hyde's to lose. While Hyde might have a future with more carries ahead of him, he's probably going to slot in fourth on the depth chart.

So, for me, I'm most interested to see what happens with Hunter and Lattimore. Should Gore need a breather or gets nicked up, who will take his place? Obviously, Hunter has filled that role a bit in the past, but his future with the team might be limited now.

Knowing Lattimore's much ballyhooed work ethic, along with his upside, is it inconceivable that he'd beat out Hunter for the gig? And, if he does, what would that do to Hunter's trade value?

You have to figure that if the coaching staff starts to lean Lattimore -- or, heck, even Hyde -- to assume that No. 2 role, they'd keep talking up the competition and not tip their hand. Not only to preserve leverage in any trade talks, but to keep all parties involved in said battle in a mindset where they're still scraping to win that job.

If I were to guess? I'd say the team plays it safe and breaks camp with the order going Gore, Hunter, Lattimore and then Hyde. There's a whole lot of time between now and then, though.

A lot of eyes will be on the wide receiver position as the team moves into OTAs, training camp and the pre-season. But by the time the club heads to Dallas in early September, we might all be talking about what an incredible battle we witnessed within the running back depth chart.

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