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49ers running backs: Better, worse, or same in 2016?

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A position by position look at the San Francisco 49ers’ roster, and whether the team is better, worse, or the same as the 2015 roster.

The San Francisco 49ers face a lot of questions surrounding their roster in 2016, and it will take some time to figure out where this team stands. The team was fairly quiet in free agency, but did plenty of work in the 2016 NFL Draft. Additionally, they will welcome back some injured players, and look to further develop young talent from the past few drafts.

With that in mind, I thought we would take a look at each position, compare it to various points last year, and consider whether the unit is better, worse, or the same compared to last year. The table includes the current group of players, and then a list of players on the 90-man roster for the first preseason game, the players on the Week 1 53-man roster, and the players on the Week 17 53-man roster. The idea is to compare this year with last year across the board. The roster changes from August to December, so I’m including three separate markers just to provide an overall view of the position last year.

We started with the quarterback position, and today move on to the running backs.

Current 2015 preseason 2015 - Week 1 2015 - Week 17
Carlos Hyde Carlos Hyde Carlos Hyde DuJuan Harris
Shaun Draughn Kendall Hunter Reggie Bush Mike Davis
DuJuan Harris Reggie Bush Mike Davis Jarryd Hayne
Mike Davis Kendall Gaskins Jarryd Hayne Kendall Gaskins
Kelvin Taylor Jarryd Hayne Kendall Hunter (IR) Carlos Hyde (IR)
Kendall Gaskins Mike Davis Reggie Bush (IR)
Shaun Draughn (IR)

Last year the team seemed to enter the year with considerable depth at the running back position. Of course, that Week 17 list shows just how haywire things went. The team did a surprisingly solid job filling in for all the injured backs, but it was crazy. No Carlos Hyde, then no Reggie Bush, then no Shaun Draughn. And we can add in Mike Davis missing an extended period and being relatively ineffective when he was actually playing.

The biggest question will be if Carlos Hyde can stay healthy in spite of his bull-dozing running style. After that, the depth chart has a lot of potential, but plenty of questions as well. Plenty of folks are on the Shaun Draughn train. He played hard, and was adequate replacing Hyde/Bush, but it’s not like he was a stellar. DuJuan Harris showed more to me in his limited work after Draughn got hurt. Draughn is a decent option if injuries strike, but Harris strikes me as the better complementary option if players remain healthy.

Kelvin Taylor has the bloodline (son of Fred), but now we’ll see if he’s a solid college back with a limited NFL ceiling, or if the NFL can unleash something that wasn’t really consistently there in college.

And of course, there’s Mike Davis. The 49ers spent a fourth round pick on him a year ago. He spent some time on the short term injured reserve list, and did not do a whole lot of much when he was on the field. Considering what the 49ers got from Draughn and Harris off the street, that does not exactly bode well for Davis. I don't think he's going anywhere in year 2, but the front office is likely going to be a little less patient with him.

The running backs are obviously in a better position than they were in Week 17 last year. In terms of the overall look of last year's running backs, it's a tough call. I lean a little toward looking better. There was some upside with Reggie Bush, but the injuries were entirely expected. Maybe not the specific injuries he suffered, but in general, nobody was surprised when he got hurt. Kendall Hunter was always an interesting back, but he was never the same after that Achilles injury in 2012. Given that Draughn was adequate, and Harris showed a little something, the depth on this unit seems a little better than what we saw for much of last year. Davis seemingly has nowhere to go but up, Harris seems like he could be an intriguing weapon in Chip Kelly's offense, and Kelvin Taylor is at least an interesting option. Add in Carlos Hyde getting a chance to do more of what he did in college, and there is some interesting upside to this group.