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Kyle Shanahan coached PFF’s two highest graded rookie running backs of past decade

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The 49ers have a pair of young running backs competing behind Carlos Hyde and Tim Hightower. History could bode well for them.

The San Francisco 49ers are implementing a new offensive scheme this offseason, and the hope is that head coach Kyle Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner will be able to turn around a run game that has struggled with consistency. Carlos Hyde is a very talented running back, but his own injuries and poor offensive line play have created issues.

The 49ers drafted Joe Williams and signed UDFA Matt Breida to compete with Carlos Hyde and veteran free agent Tim Hightower. Shanahan and Turner have both had a lot of success building great running games. They both can point to Mike Shanahan in some regard, but they deserve plenty of credit for being able to implement what they have learned over the years.

Hyde is at the top of the 49ers depth chart, but it is safe to say Williams and Breida will see significant opportunities in August to prove their worth. Pro Football Focus recently looked back at their grades over the past decade to rank out the top-graded rookie running backs in PFF’s decade of grading. Two notable names are atop the list: Alfred Morris and Steve Slaton.

In 2012, Shanahan was in his third year with Washington. They spent a sixth round pick on Alfred Morris, and he busted out in a big way. He rushed for 1,613 yards and 11 touchdowns. Both numbers are the highest of his career to date. In 2008, Shanahan was in his first year as offensive coordinator of the Houston Texans. The Texans drafted Steve Slaton in the third round. His rookie year saw him rush for 1,282 yards and nine touchdowns.

Pro Football Focus has been putting together grades over the past decade, and while the subjectivity of it leaves plenty of room for debate, a decade of grades leaves some room for discussion. I personally prefer their signature stats, but the high grades on these two Shanahan running backs is worth noting. I would be curious to see how much responsibility Shanahan had in 2008 as a first-year OC. Gary Kubiak was in his third year as head coach, and had a ton of success during his eight-year tenure as Mike Shanahan’s offensive coordinator in Denver. It seems pretty obvious he would have some influence over Kyle Shanahan in the latter’s first year as an OC.

It can be difficult to separate a coordinator from a like-minded head coach. And when it comes to Shanahan, it’s more complicated in some ways. With his work under Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan, there is plenty of connection to them. Of course, he has had success on his own in Cleveland and Atlanta. And from what I’ve heard, he had a lot of autonomy under his dad in Washington.

All that being said, it is intriguing to consider what Shanahan and Bobby Turner can do with a pair of young talents in Williams and Breida. The 49ers search for a franchise quarterback will remain a topic of discussion, but on the offensive side of the ball this season, the development of the young running backs will be a significant storyline to follow.