The San Francisco 49ers have spent much of the last five years trying to find a guy who could complement Frank Gore, and then eventually take over for him. They seemed to come close with Kendall Hunter, only to see him suffer Achilles and ACL injuries over the course of three seasons.
This past May, the 49ers made a move to draft Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. The 49ers initially held pick 24 in the second round, and then traded down with Denver, who held pick 31. Immediately after that, the 49ers moved back up to pick No. 25 in a deal with the Miami Dolphins and selected Hyde.
It's hard to know what exactly the 49ers had in hand when they made the deal down with Denver, because a pair of running backs had just come off the board. Tennessee traded up for Bishop Sankey at No. 22, and then Cincinnati selected Jeremy Hill at No. 23. The 49ers likely figured the Broncos would not be going running back at No. 24, but then potentially figured they would be able to do a deal with Miami. It's hard to know for certain without being in the draft room.
Our friends at Cincy Jungle came across an interesting link at Bengals.com that indicates the Bengals had a tough choice between Hill and Hyde. You can only take so much from comments well after the fact, but it is still an interesting discussion about Hill vs. Hyde:
The scouts, anchored by director of player personnel Duke Tobin, liked Hill. They also liked the Cincinnati Kid himself, Ohio State's Carlos Hyde. It was a close call, but the Bengals new offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, was all over Hill coming out of a system run by Cam Cameron, a close colleague. As Cameron's quarterbacks coach in Baltimore in 2008 and 2009, Jackson nurtured the scouting, drafting and development of quarterback Joe Flacco. After serving as the Bengals running backs coach in 2013, Jackson was anxious to add some power to the playmaking quickness of Bernard that they coveted with the 35th pick in '13.
"Carlos is a tremendous player. He's doing great things in San Francisco," Jackson recalled after Wednesday's practice. "We were looking for a back like this. I had people in place at LSU that I trusted. Not that I didn't trust the coach at Ohio State, but it was that I knew the system (Hill) had come out of. I knew the things he had been exposed to. I knew the things that we would try and do with him here. And I had in my mind a model how fast he could pick things up because of where he played."
Had the Bengals instead selected Hyde, I wonder if the 49ers would have gone with Hill, or if they would have moved on. I doubt Trent Baalke would give that information up, but it's an interesting little hypothetical to consider. Assuming he does not play on Sunday (as expected), Hyde will finish the season with 333 yards on 83 carries (4.0 yards per carry). Hill heads into Week 17 with 1,024 yards on 199 carries (5.1 yards per carry).
It's hard to compare the two performances given some of the 49ers problems along the offensive line. I still think Hyde will be plenty fine, and could be that guy who eventually takes over the job full time. Nonetheless, it can be interesting to consider the "what-ifs" about the draft. I don't buy into things like, "Well, what if the 49ers drafted Tom Brady instead of Giovanni Carmazzi" because everybody passed over Brady so many times. But something like this where the 49ers went running back, and it was only a couple picks apart, makes for something a little more interesting.