The San Francisco 49ers have numerous question marks heading into the 2016 season, and so it is hard to fully assess what will happen. You could point to numerous players and position groups as “X-factors.” There are a wide range of outcomes for a lot of players on the 49ers this season.
Old friend Danny Kelly recently took a look at the X-factor for each team, as part of The Ringer’s NFL preview. For the 49ers, he listed running back Carlos Hyde. Here’s what he had to say about the pick:
Hyde missed nine games in 2015 with a foot injury, but a switch to Chip Kelly’s high-tempo zone-running scheme has this season looking like a boom-or-bust year for the former Buckeye. On one hand, you fear that the 235-pound bruising back will look out of place like DeMarco Murray did in Kelly’s scheme. On the other hand, as Stanford coach David Shaw points out, Hyde’s skill set — quick feet, powerful legs, and excellent balance — looks similar to that of Jonathan Stewart, who thrived under then–offensive coordinator Kelly at Oregon back in 2007.
If Hyde is healthy, I think just the sheer volume of this offense bodes well for him. The 49ers have questions on the offensive line, but the group is looking better than what started out last season. Struggles at quarterback could lead to more stacked boxes, but Hyde should be able to put up strong numbers. Of course, “if Hyde is healthy” is the big question. That physical style can take its toll, so that will be something to track. But if he can stay healthy, oh boy!
All that being said, it still feels like most of this team is a big X-factor. Danny described the x-factor as, “the guy who comes into the season with a wide range of possible outcomes — and whichever one he achieves will likely have an outsize impact upon his team’s fortunes.“
Hyde makes a lot of sense in this light. But, you could argue the offensive line as a whole is an X-factor. If they can hold up, it could open the door to improved play from the quarterback position. We haven’t seen much thus far in the QB-WR passing game, but the tight ends are getting some opportunities. Vance McDonald is getting a lot of buzz, and could finally break out a bit. That being said, under Danny’s definition, I’m not sure I see him as an “X-factor.”
Jimmie Ward is a guy who could be a big factor on the defense. But if this defense is going to take a notable step forward, it feels like it will be a true team effort. NaVorro Bowman will remain high profile, but is there one defensive player who has a wide range of outcomes and could have an outsized impact on the group?