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San Francisco 49ers 2014 roster review: Running backs

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We continue our position-by-position review of the 49ers' 2014 season with the running backs, featuring Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We've been talking about Frank Gore a good bit, so I thought hey -- why not keep it going? Thus far, in looking at the San Francisco 49ers roster from last season, we've reviewed the tight end and quarterback positions. Both were miserable times (tears were shed, tables were flipped) but the running back position isn't a beacon of disappointment like the others -- and it hasn't been in a very, very long time.

That's because Gore has been with the 49ers since 2005, when the team took him in the third round (65th overall) and has only failed to eclipse 1,000 yards twice in his career. He's had bad games over the years but by and large, he's ... well, he's the inconvenient truth.

But the running back position is one that's close to transition, and probably in transition. We'll take a brief look ahead later in this post but first, let's take a look at 2014-15:

Frank Gore - 16 games, 255 carries, 1,106 yards (4.3 yards per carry), 4 touchdowns, 2 lost fumbles, 11 receptions, 111 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Gore has definitely lost a step, and at 31 years old, that's not exactly shocking. He's still capable of big games, and with 255 carries last season and no significant injuries, he's obviously able to carry the load for another season if need be.

But Gore has kind of always been that guy, who has several good to really good games before destroying everything an opposing team's defense believes in one day. Case in point, Gore rushed for 100-plus yards twice before Week 16, but in the final two games of the regular season, he put up 158 and 144 yards, respectively. He posted per-carry averages of 6.1 and 5.8 yards in those games.

Some will say that Gore was putting up a greater effort in those two games so he can leave the 49ers with a bang, if he was indeed leaving the 49ers. I'm not so sure that's case, because I've never thought that a guy who I know puts out 100 percent effort all the time can just hit a switch and put out more effort. Maybe there was some extra adrenaline, but Gore was simply doing what he always does.

He was effective, possibly a bit slower than in season's past, and looked good in every aspect of his game, aside from a few bad drops in the passing game. I don't know what happened to Gore's hands last season but it was rough going there for a little bit. I don't know what third party sites say regarding his drops but I remember no less than three of them very vividly. Still, he's obviously got plenty left to offer.

Carlos Hyde - 14 games, 83 carries, 333 yards (4.0 yards per carry), 4 touchdowns, 1 lost fumble, 12 receptions, 58 yards

Carlos Hyde was a second-round pick this past season and I was a big fan of what he was able to do this year. I think he runs a lot like Gore at times, but I also think that doesn't necessarily lend itself well to being a backup or sharing the football. Hyde is the kind of guy who likes to pick up steam, and gets better when you give him the ball a whole lot. That doesn't happen when Gore is around.

But when he did carry the ball, I liked what he was able to do. Some games he was totally shut down and couldn't get anything done with his first cut -- he'll need to work on that going forward. But by and large, I thought the runs for positive yardage showed a whole lot of promise.

Most importantly, Hyde's style is conducive to being a starting running back. He may get that opportunity next season, and I see no reason to suspect he can't handle those duties, but with just 95 touches this past season, I suppose it can still go either way.

Alfonso Smith - 6 games, 7 carries, 19 yards (2.7 yards per carry), 3 receptions, 11 yards

Smith was used sparingly in spot duty and was simply the guy the 49ers turned to when it became clear that LaMichael James desperately wanted out, Kendall Hunter got hurt and Marcus Lattimore retired. Smith won't ever threaten to take a starting role, but he seems fine as a third back. That said, he is a free agent this offseason.

Bruce Miller - 16 games, 6 carries, 9 yards (1.5 yards per carry), 18 receptions, 189 yards, 2 touchdowns

Bruce Miller is a rock, and one of the best fullbacks in the NFL. I have no problem saying that despite lacking stats, because I've seen how good he is as a run blocker and I've seen how good he is as a pass blocker. He always knows his assignments and he always follows through on his blocks.

The biggest issue is that I think the 49ers don't use him enough. They need to run more formations where Miller is lined up as a fullback, and they need to pass it enough from said formation to erase the certainty that the 49ers are going to run it in the eyes of their opponents. That would have the added benefit of throwing him the ball more, as I think Miller is a really underrated receiver. Whatever the case, he's not going anywhere.

Kendall Hunter

I'm not sure what to expect of Kendall Hunter at this point. The 49ers obviously like him, but he just can't stay healthy. I love how he looks running the football and think he has what it takes to be a great NFL running back, but his health is a constant issue. The 49ers signed him through the 2015 season after his injury but who knows what's going to happen with that?

Looking Ahead

Obviously, so much of this depends on what's going to happen with Gore. If the 49ers bring him back for another season, I doubt they invest a high draft pick on a rookie. If Gore comes back, I feel like the 49ers will stick with a two-back committee and get an extended look at Hyde. If Gore walks in free agency or retires, then I could see the 49ers looking to the draft.

There's a very strong free agency class at the running back position this year, but I'm not sure what the market looks like. The value of a running back, as far as contracts go, is so skewed in the NFL these days. It's not helped by the fact that this is also a very strong draft for backs, as well. If Gore doesn't come back, I could see the 49ers targeting a veteran back, possibly a faster guy, but I can also see them putting another high pick into the position, as they'll want multiple capable backs. Smith is not that guy and who knows with Hunter?

Here's a look at some of the top running backs set to hit the open market:

DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Justin Forsett, Baltimore Ravens
C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
Knowshon Moreno, Miami Dolphins
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Chris Johnson, New York Jets
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis Colts
Roy Helu, Washington
Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

As far as the NFL Draft goes, the class is very, very deep. All eyes are on Todd Gurley of Georgia and where he'll go following his injuries, then there's guys like Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson. It's a very strong class, and for your own research, here's a ranking from December, via SB Nation's Dan Kadar

1. Todd Gurley | 6'1, 226 pounds | RB | Georgia *
2. Melvin Gordon | 6'1, 213 pounds | RB | Wisconsin *
3. Ameer Abdullah | 5'9, 195 pounds | RB | Nebraska
4. Duke Johnson | 5'9, 206 pounds | RB | Miami *
5. T.J. Yeldon | 6'2, 221 pounds | RB | Alabama
6. Tevin Coleman | 6'1, 210 pounds | RB | Indiana *
7. David Cobb | 5'11, 220 pounds | RB | Minnesota
8. Jay Ajayi | 6'0, 216 pounds | RB | Boise State *
9. Matt Jones | 6'2, 235 pounds | RB | Florida *
10. Mike Davis | 5'9, 223 pounds | RB | South Carolina *
11. David Johnson | 6'1, 229 pounds | RB | Northern Iowa
12. Devontae Booker | 5'11, 203 pounds | RB | Utah *
13. D.J. Foster | 5'11, 205 pounds | RB | Arizona State *
14. Javorious Allen | 6'1, 220 pounds | RB | Southern California *
15. Josh Robinson | 5'9, 215 pounds | RB | Mississippi State *
16. Jeremy Langford | 6'1, 208 pounds | RB | Michigan State
17. Karlos Williams | 6'1, 225 pounds | RB | Florida State
18. Malcolm Brown | 5'11, 222 pounds | RB | Texas
19. Cameron Artis-Payne | 5'11, 210 pounds | RB | Auburn
20. Terrence Magee | 5'9, 217 pounds | RB | LSU
21. Michael Dyer | 5'9, 212 pounds | RB | Louisville
22. Prince-Tyson Gulley | 5'8, 193 pounds | RB | Syracuse
23. Bill Belton | 5'10, 204 pounds | RB | Penn State