Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP

Marcio Jose Sanchez-AP



There has been a lot of offseason chatter surrounding running back Carlos Hyde's future with the San Francisco 49ers. How much longer will Hyde have a prominent role on the offense? Does he even have a future with the team?

Leading up to the draft in April, there was talk that the 49ers were enamored with LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who was among the 30 draft eligible players allowed to visit with the team in Santa Clara. The 49ers were rumored to be so high on him that there were some who felt the running back might be in play with the team's second overall pick.

The 49ers ended up selecting defensive lineman Solomon Thomas after trading down to the number three spot and Fournette eventually went to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

San Francisco did select a running back in the draft and it was a player who wasn't even originally on its draft board. Joe Williams was selected out of Utah in the fourth round and it took some convincing by head coach Kyle Shanahan to get general manager John Lynch on board with the pick.

Williams quit on the Utah football team prior to the 2016 season. The decision did not sit well with Lynch but Shanahan was convinced that the team needed Williams on its roster.

"If we don't get [Williams], I'll be sick," Shanahan said the night before the third day of the draft. "I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night."

So Lynch called the young running back and what he learned changed his mind. Williams had quit football in order to deal with the long-present grief that he carried due to the death of his sister at a younger age.

"I didn't have enough time to fully go through the grieving process," Williams told Brooke Cersosimo of NFL Media in May. "I'm 23 years old now and I've finally realized that you've got to put things on halt, even if it's something that you love or are passionate about, just to be right in your life. Taking that time away from football definitely allowed me to do that."

Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area believes that Williams, not Hyde, is the 49ers' future featured back. He joined the Taylor Price Talk podcast last week and explained why.

"[Hyde's] body language doesn't exude this sense of urgency," Maiocco said. "He plays hard. There's no question about it. He doesn't go down easy...To me, when Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner stand on the table and they say, 'We want this running back. We need this running back.' Kyle Shanahan telling Peter King, 'If we don't get Joe Williams, I'm not going to be able to sleep.' Well, Kyle Shanahan knows exactly what kind of running back he wants."

Following his return to Utah in 2016, Williams finished the year in the top 20 nationally with 1,420 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns through nine games. During his second game back, a matchup against UCLA, Williams tallied 332 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 222 yards and a touchdown in a Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana.

"If [Shanahan and Turner] know the kind of running back that they want and they're standing on a table for a guy – unless the kid mentally isn't able to function at the NFL level and comprehend the playbook – unless that occurs, this guy is going to be a player," Maiocco continued. "He's going to be a significant player. And so the question becomes, 'Is it this year he unseats Carlos Hyde or is it next year?' And if Carlos Hyde really steps up to the plate and shows a lot, would the 49ers make a run at him for a contract extension? I don't know.

"It seems like they have the guy that they believe is going to be the guy whenever the 49ers are in a position to turn the corner. Joe Williams is the guy that, right now, the long-term planning, is going to be the guy who's going to be the featured back or at least a major part of this offense in the future."

You can listen to the entire interview with Maiocco on the Taylor Price Talk podcast.

What does Hyde think about the competition, which also includes former Denver Broncos running back Kapri Bibbs, who the 49ers traded for during the draft, free-agent acquisition Tim Hightower, and undrafted free agent Matt Breida out of Georgia Southern?

"I feel like there's more competition in the room now," Hyde said last week. "Bobby (Turner) stresses it every day that he wants guys in the room competing. And, I mean, any one of those guys can go in and be the starter."

Hyde feels that the increased competition just pushes him to take his game to the next level and fight to remain the 49ers' starting running back.

"Every guy in the room wants to be the starter," Hyde continued. "It's going to help everybody out, our whole competition. It'll benefit all of us."

Prior to the draft in April, Lynch gave what could be perceived as a lukewarm endorsement of Hyde, saying that he hopes some competition will help Hyde prove himself and that the team is "really high" on the running back.

"We think [Hyde] can be a highly productive player, but we're eager to see," Lynch said. "You have these thoughts as to do these skills translate to what we do? He's a very talented young man and we're very excited and hopeful just in the interactions we've had that he's come ready to play."

Since becoming a starter, Hyde has been available for just 20 of the team's 32 games over the past two seasons due to injuries. In 2016, Hyde finished the season just 12 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard rushing season and missed the final game of the season after being placed on injured reserve. Over the past two seasons, he has rushed for 1,468 yards and nine touchdowns while averaging 4.42 yards per carry.