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49ers 2018 offseason roster departures in review: Running backs

Are there any running backs the San Francisco 49ers were unwise to let go?

We’re going to look at departures from each position prior to Week 1 of the 2018 season and see how they fared after leaving the San Francisco 49ers. Some players went on to better careers, while others may be out of the league. We won’t be highlighting every transaction, just some notable ones. Today, we look at the backfield.

If there’s anything we learned from the running backs in 2018, it’s that A: Kyle Shanahan can identify and coach them up better than anyone else in the league and/or B: the 49ers are loaded at the position. Throughout the season, a new body would come in for someone else be it Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert or Jeff Wilson Jr.

Which makes it all the more understanding why they moved on from who they did. While Jerick McKinnon was a nice upgrade, Carlos Hyde had the experience in Shanahan’s difficult-to-learn offense.

He also couldn’t catch in that offense (a deep Jimmy Garoppolo throw comes to mind here).

Here’s a list of the more notable departures, and as far as the running backs go, there’s only two big names to jot down. Note that with some exceptions, many camp bodies, training camp transactions, and roster cuts during the season are not listed.

Carlos Hyde
Joe Williams

Carlos Hyde

When Carlos Hyde was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, it was clear the 49ers were looking for an eventual replacement for Frank Gore. When the 2014 season ended, the 49ers let Gore walk in free agency, leaving the role all for Hyde’s taking. At the time, all of this made sense. While the 49ers handled the situation about as poorly as one could imagine, the logic made sense. Get younger and cheaper at the position.

Hyde wasn’t a bad running back by any stretch of the imagination, but he couldn’t stay healthy and his play of a cannonball shooting through the tackles lacked the vision and patience Gore had. He also had issues catching the ball, made most apparent in Kyle Shanahan’s arrival. As 2017 went on, Hyde relinquished more and more carries to rookie Matt Breida, but, as a consummate teammate he was, remained positive on his role and wanted to return in 2018. That didn’t happen. The 49ers signed Jerick McKinnon and Hyde went to the Cleveland Browns.

And it got worse. Despite the Browns drafting Nick Chubb early in the 2018 draft (second round, 35th overall), Hyde was the No. 1 back. That didn’t last long. Hyde put together great runs and games, but was dealt to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a midseason trade, giving the Browns their draft pick full reign of the backfield. Hyde turned in respectable numbers for “a Browns team” (63 yards-per game average) but Chubb took things to a whole new level as time went on, further hurting Hyde’s stock. With the Jaguars, Hyde played four games, starting in one and amassing 189 yards in Jacksonville. Combined with his 382 yards in Cleveland, Hyde finished 2018 with 172 rushing attempts, 571 yards, and five touchdowns.

The Jaguars had character issues with starter Leonard Fournette, so perhaps Hyde has found a home with the Jaguars, but his 2018 couldn’t have gone any worse from a team commitment standpoint.

Joe Williams

Now we go to the other end of the spectrum. Hyde brought hope and promise, Williams brought questions on if he could make it at the NFL level. The 49ers used a fourth round pick on Williams in the 2017 NFL draft, but Williams never saw the field in 2017 or 2018. Williams came with some issues, most notable his quitting and returning to the Utah Utes football team. His reasoning was sound as it revolved around his sister’s death in 2006—11 years prior—but it still raised some eyebrows with possible character concerns. It also didn’t help that he was kicked off his previous team that he transferred to Utah from, the University of Connecticut.

On the field Williams had some good, but mostly bad. When you thought he got it, he’d fumble the ball, run into his offensive line, or do something to indicate he needed time. Undrafted free agent Matt Breida beat him out in 2017 and the 49ers placed Williams on injured reserve. In 2018, the 49ers waived him, not even bringing him to the practice squad (that was left to someone who got playing time, Jeff Wilson Jr.). That’s enough to say the 49ers had about enough.

Williams has not been picked up by any other team in the NFL.

Would you like to have either of these running backs back on the team?