The San Francisco 49ers are obviously a team in transition, some positions by choice and others by force. The running back position is one of those in transition, and the 49ers at least appear to have planned for the transition its undergoing this offseason. They spent a high draft pick on a rookie last season and gave that rookie enough playing time to show he can become a starter.
He'll get that opportunity sooner rather than later. San Francisco let long-time veteran Frank Gore depart in free agency, as he signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The 49ers have made all the moves they're going to make in free agency, signing veteran Reggie Bush to supplement Carlos Hyde, and they also moved to re-sign Kendall Hunter not long after his season-ending injury last season.
There's also former Rugby League player Jarryd Hayne, who seems to fit in at running back but who likely has a better shot earning a spot on the team as a special teams player, at least initially. Alfonso Smith, Phillip Tanner and Kendall Gaskins comprise the other running backs on the roster.
As it stands, the depth chart looks something like this:
I think the 49ers like Smith and what he brings to the table, while Tanner was a late-season signing when both Gore and Hyde were dealing with injuries. Gaskins is a practice squad player and Hayne is a wild card.
But are the 49ers done making moves? If you really look at it, there's not a whole lot behind Hyde to really get excited about. Bush has been a good player and should help the offense as a change-of-pace back, but Hunter has dealt with significant injuries throughout his short career and it's hard to imagine him coming back from many more.
I also feel like the 49ers will be looking at drafting a smaller, faster running back in the near future to compliment Hyde. I'm not sure now is the time after signing Bush and with Hyde being in just his second year, but I do think it's coming in 2016 if not now. Still, if a can't-miss running back prospect falls and the 49ers have no better options, could it happen? I think so.
The 49ers haven't been linked to many running backs at all in the pre-draft process, however. They met with Jay Ajayi of Boise State, Matt Jones of Florida, Jeremy Langford of Michigan State, Terrance Magee of LSU and Keon Williams of Chattanooga. Magee is the only one of those players who have taken an official visit with the 49ers, Langford met with the team at the Senior Bowl and the rest are players the 49ers looked at during various pro days.
It's worth noting that this year's draft class is stacked at running back. We've dealt with underwhelming classes over the years, and the running back position has been a weird one in the NFL in recent seasons. But this year's class is excellent, so here's a look at the top 30 players, 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. Jay Ajayi, 6’0, 216 pounds, RB, Boise State|
|4. Tevin Coleman, 6’1, 210 pounds, RB, Indiana|
|5. Ameer Abdullah, 5’8 1/4, 198 pounds, RB, Nebraska|
|6. Duke Johnson, 5’9, 206 pounds, RB, Miami|
|7. T.J. Yeldon, 6'2, 221 pounds, RB, Alabama|
|8. David Cobb, 5’10 3/4, 229 pounds, RB, Minnesota|
|Mike Davis, 5\u20199, 223 pounds, RB, South Carolina"]">9. Mike Davis, 5’9, 223 pounds, RB, South Carolina|
|David Johnson, 6\u20190 3/4, 224 pounds, RB, Northern Iowa"]">10. David Johnson, 6’0 3/4, 224 pounds, RB, Northern Iowa|
|11. Jeremy Langford, 5'11 5/8, 208 pounds, RB, Michigan State|
|12. Javorious Allen, 6’0 1/2, 221 pounds, RB, Southern California|
|13. Cameron Artis-Payne, 5'9 5/8, 212 pounds, RB, Auburn|
|14. Matt Jones, 6’2 3/8, 231 pounds, RB, Florida|
|Josh Robinson, 5\u20197 7/8, 217 pounds, RB, Mississippi State"]">15. Josh Robinson, 5’7 7/8, 217 pounds, RB, Mississippi State|
|16. Malcolm Brown, 5’11 5/8, 223 pounds, RB, Texas|
|17. Dominique Brown, 6’2, 234 pounds, RB, Louisville|
|18. Thomas Rawls, 5’9, 215 pounds, RB, Central Michigan|
|19. Terrence Magee, 5’9, 220 pounds, RB, LSU|
|20. Karlos Williams, 6’0 3/4, 230 pounds, RB, Florida State|
|21. Kenny Hilliard, 5’11 5/8, 226 pounds, RB, LSU|
|22. Braylon Heard, 5’9 5/8, 198 pounds, RB, Kentucky|
|23. Trey Williams, 5’7 1/2, 195 pounds, RB, Texas A&M|
|24. John Crockett, 5'11 3/4, 217 pounds, RB, North Dakota State|
|25. Prince-Tyson Gulley, 5’8, 193 pounds, RB, Syracuse|
|26. Michael Dyer, 5’8, 218 pounds, RB, Louisville|
|27. Dee Hart, 5'7 1/2, 199 pounds, RB, Colorado State|
|28. B.J. Catalon, 5’7 3/8, 186 pounds, RB, TCU|
|29. Jahwan Edwards, 5’9 1/2, 220 pounds, RB, Ball State|
|30. Dreamius Smith, 6’1 1/2, 213 pounds, RB, West Virginia|