Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



There were a lot of questions surrounding San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde as he headed into the final year of his rookie contract. The 49ers seemingly drafted Hyde's replacement – Joe Williams out of Utah – in April. In healthy salary cap shape, they appeared willing to roll with Hyde this season and possibly pair him up with another young running back to create a similar one-two punch that was part of Kyle Shanahan's offense in Atlanta.

Hyde's future in San Francisco depended largely on his ability to adapt to the 49ers' new offense. He struggled during preseason, was inconsistent, and often made the wrong read while attempting to burst beyond opposing defensive lines and linebackers. Shanahan didn't appear concerned and never wavered in his support of Hyde. However, for fans, the questions remained.

Can Hyde be a featured running back for the 49ers? Can he be consistent from game to game? Can he stay healthy and remain on the field for the entire season while being a featured running back?

Al Sacco and Zain Naqvi addressed those questions on our latest "No Huddle" podcast episode and examined the body of work that Hyde has put in this season.

"To me, you can stop those questions because Carlos Hyde is a number one featured back," Sacco said. "If you look at his last nine games going back to last year...144 carries for 798 yards. 5.5 yards per carry. Other than this past week, those other eight games, it's not like he had a prolific passing attack to help him. He looks comfortable in this offense and there were a lot of questions if he would or would not. And he does.

"He had 25 carries, 84 yards, and two scores in Week 3 and he just looks like he's really coming into his own. And I know he got dinged up in this past game and I just hope he can stay on the field because, to me, right now, the sky's the limit for Hyde. I really feel he's finally finding his groove."

In an effort to prove himself to his new coaching staff, a committed Hyde reported to training camp in better football shape than he has ever been. The leaner running back got his weight down to 225 pounds, which is 10 pounds fewer than his listed weight.

"Just going into this season, I wanted to do things differently," Hyde said in July. "Do something different that I haven't done. I've always played at 230 and above. I mean, I've had success playing at that weight before but I just wanted to do something different. I just wanted this whole season to be different."

In 2016, Hyde finished the season just 12 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard rushing season and missed the team's final game after being placed on injured reserve. Missing the milestone was enough to motivate the running back to do everything necessary to improve his play on the football field.

In August, Hyde told ESPN that he felt quicker and lighter on his feet thanks to his healthier lifestyle and improved physique. It has helped him to integrate into Shanahan's offense and become a more versatile player.

"It's interesting that Kyle Shanahan kept calling his number at the goal line [against the Rams] and I think that shows Kyle Shanahan's confidence in Carlos Hyde to be able to get the job done," Naqvi said. "I remember in the fourth quarter, he had a run where he was stopped in the backfield and he plowed through three or four guys to get just a two-yard gain and get a little bit closer. Just that run in itself kind of shows you his toughness and he's becoming more of a complete back.

"It's basically adapt or die, right? That's pretty much what this league is. Carlos Hyde is having to become a multi-faceted player. He's not just a runner anymore. He needs to catch out of the backfield. He needs to be able to block. He needs to be able to run routes. So, I think overall, that's improved his game because it's forced him to be more of an athlete and less of just a bruiser.

"Honestly speaking, that's going to give him a little bit of longevity in his career because he's not going to be taking as many of those big hits. He'll have the ball in space. He'll be matched up against smaller guys when he catches the ball.

"In terms of fit, he says this is the best offense that he's ever played in. So, according to Carlos Hyde, this is the most comfortable he's ever been in an offense and I think that bodes pretty well."

Hyde has been on the field for 78-percent of the 49ers' offensive snaps this season and his 253 rushing yards put him on pace for 1,349 yards over the course of the season. He has the fourth-highest breakaway percentage among NFL running backs this season and his four runs of 15-or-more yards ranks second, according to Pro Football Focus.

You can listen to Sacco and Naqvi break down Hyde's play, wide receiver Pierre Garçon, other players, and the entire Week 3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams below.