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49ers bubble watch: Running backs are work in progress

The San Francisco 49ers have questions at almost every position while they work to figure out their 53-man roster. We’ll break down the bubble watch for each one. Today we look at running backs.

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up minicamp last week, and return for training camp in just over five weeks. The roster appears to be just about set, so with that in mind, it is time to re-visit the bubble watch. The offseason workout program does not lock in most roster spots, and that is even more the case this season with a new coaching staff and front office.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for many years now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we'll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Additionally, this does not reflect whether or not a player will be traded. Trades can and probably will happen during training camp, but the positioning on this focuses on whether or not they’d be cut.

Today, we move on to the running back position.

Lock: Carlos Hyde, Joe Williams, Kyle Juszczyk
Strong Bubble: Tim Hightower, Matt Breida
Weak Bubble: Kapri Bibbs
Longshot: Raheem Mostert, Tyler McCloskey

The 49ers decision to hire Kyle Shanahan, and his decision to bring running backs coach Bobby Turner bodes well for the room as a whole. However, like much of the offensive side of the ball, questions remain about the long-term future of the running back depth chart.

Hyde is entering the final year of his contract, and as one would expect with a new front office and coaching staff, it is unlikely the team attempts to sign him to a contract extension before they see him in game action. He is a talented running back who has struggled to stay healthy during his three-year NFL career. The addition of Joe Williams (and Matt Breida if he continues to shine) could mean we see the next in the long line of Shanahan/Turner quality diamonds in the rough.

That being said, if the 49ers do not trade Hyde, they are not cutting him. I do think a trade is a very real possibility if the right opportunity comes along, but they won’t cut him if they can’t do a deal. Sure, technically “anything” is possible, but not enough in my mind to drop him to strong bubble.

I had pondered listing Tim Hightower as a lock, but the reported emergence of Breida in OTAs and minicamp has me thinking twice. Nobody wins or loses a roster spot in the offseason workout program, but Breida would seem to have some momentum on his side. I think Hightower ends up on the roster, and the team could very well carry four running backs, but it will make for an intriguing competition. I could very well be over-valuing him right now, but I think he has a decent chance at this thing.

The 49ers have several options to send out there this fall, but this group remains a work in progress in many ways. Joe Williams seems like the obvious long-term option given the coaching staff history. And yet, who knows how many running backs Shanahan and Turner will go through during the course of their time in Santa Clara.