Before the start of the NFL free agency period, we’re going to look at various positions on the San Francisco 49ers’ roster to determine a few things. The first is whether or not the position improved from 2016 to 2017. The second is to see if free agency is a viable option to improve the position — if it’s even needed.
Season in review
Obviously, this article is slightly different than the ones before it, in that it’s obvious the 49ers need to add a running back. The question we’re asking this time is whether or not they need to add a different running back.
Carlos Hyde sounds like he’s interested in re-joining the 49ers — downright excited, even. Whether or not he’s excited enough to take a smaller contract than another team would be willing to give him is still up in the air.
Anyway, in 2017, Hyde played pretty well as a runner, but had six drops as a receiver. Despite those drops, he did have 59 receptions for 350 yards, and almost all of those yards were yard after the catch.
As a runner, Hyde led the team with 240 carries for 940 yards, a per-carry average of 3.9 yards. That’s not stellar, but he frequently faced poor run-blocking, especially on the interior of the offensive line. He had eight rushing touchdowns and lost two fumbles.
Matt Breida, a rookie who out-performed fellow rookie Joe Williams in training camp by a wide margin, ended up being Hyde’s primary backup. Williams went on injured reserve, and it seemed more like a “we’ll worry about him later” kind of move.
Breida was exceptional in relief of Hyde, though he too struggled with drops and had five drops as a receiver. He caught 21 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown. Breida rushed for 465 yards on 105 carries, a per-carry average of 4.4 yards. He also had a pair of touchdowns.
Here’s a look at the way the position changed from 2016 to 2017:
2016 Week 17: Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris, Mike Davis, Raheem Mostert, Carlos Hyde (IR)
2017 Week 1: Carlos Hyde, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeremy McNichols (PS), Joe Williams (IR)
Current: Carlos Hyde (FA), Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeremy McNichols, Joe Williams
I honestly don’t know what to make of Williams. He seemed promising, but the coaching staff seemed to immediately prefer Breida. And if the 49ers both let Hyde walk and don’t pursue a running back in free agency, I’m not confident Breida and Williams can be a competent backfield.
The market for running backs
We’re going to take a deeper look at the various positions and free agents available in a separate series. For now, here’s a quick and dirty list of the top running backs set to hit the open market.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Dion Lewis, New England Patriots
Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings
Alfred Morris, Dallas Cowboys
LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles
Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks (RFA)
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles
Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
Shane Vereen, New York Giants
Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos
Damien Williams, Miami Dolphins