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Can Carlos Hyde continue to be 49ers’ franchise back?

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Hyde’s per-carry average on the season looks a lot worse when you take away one particularly bad performance.

At the start of December, I pointed out an ESPN article in which running backs were ranked, and in which the author — SB Nation alum Field Yates — spoke to various coaches and personnel people around the league. The usual names came up, like rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and the always-great Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But he noted that San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde was mentioned at least once, and that he “would be thought of as a top-three or top-five back if playing for a different team.”

I agree with this particular anonymous person, because Hyde runs hard. The 49ers have let him down a few times, but he also sometimes hesitates too much or isn’t as crisp as I’d like in his cuts. His skillset is there though, and if his health holds up, I think he’s got several years of high-level play in him.

Now that the season is over, I thought we’d just take a quick look at his stats and evaluate where the 49ers are at with Hyde.

Hyde took at least 13 carries in every game he played, which I think is a good number and validates his per-carry average from those games. Now on the season, Hyde had 217 carries for 988 yards — a per-carry average of 4.6 yards — and six touchdowns on the ground. He also had a respectable 27 receptions for 163 yards and three touchdowns.

His per-carry average is decent, but not stellar. And the worrying thing is that his total average is skewed a big by the 11.4 yards-per-carry he put up in a 193-yard performance against the New York Jets early in the season. If you remove that game from the equation, Hyde’s per-carry average on the season is just 3.9 yards.

Now, removing any game isn’t necessarily fair. He put up those numbers against the Jets and we can’t take them away from him. But he also posted per-carry averages of 3.5, 2.9, 2.4 and 1.1 in different games this season. That’s pretty bad, with 3.5 yards-per-carry being right on the cusp of acceptable for a starting running back, let alone a franchise running back.

How much of this can we blame on the offensive line? It’s kind of a weird question. The line played this year like they were afraid to let the quarterback get hurt and that was a detriment in the running game overall. Opposing defenses also spent less time worrying about the quarterback and thus were able to stack the box against Hyde.

But there are some bruisers on the line, and truthfully, it could be a lot worse for Hyde. I’d say the 49ers as a whole blocked poorly for Hyde, but not abysmally. There were definitely times when Hyde was doing little to help himself.

And like I said, I like his skillset. But it was clear he was playing hurt at times, and clear that his style of running needs a little less that’s predictable and a little more elusiveness. The line, again, is doing him no favors, but without that game against the Jets, his per-carry average is concerning.

Of course, Frank Gore dipped around those edges here and there over his career. And it really was a miserable season for the 49ers as a whole. Hyde cannot be expected to light the league on fire behind San Francisco’s offensive line and with San Francisco’s quarterback demanding so little from opposing defensive backs.

Hopefully, Hyde is still the top guy going forward and that he can stay healthy. I’m not super worried about his per-carry average, but I thought it was worth visiting at the very least. I guess the big question is how much you think the running back position needs to be addressed this offseason.