Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



While the talent was always there, I don't think anyone really knew what to make of Carlos Hyde coming into the 2016 season. After all, the San Francisco 49ers hadn't seen much of the oft-injured running back in the two years prior, and what Hyde produced during that time was inconsistent at best. Granted, he wasn't working behind a strong offensive line or any resemblance of a passing game, but Hyde's numbers were all over the board.

During his rookie season in 2014, Hyde played Robin to Frank Gore's Batman, seeing limited opportunities through much of the year. On the surface, his stats were respectable (83/333/4), but looking deeper there was cause for concern. It seemed the more Hyde touched the ball, the worse his production got. If you look at the six games where Hyde was given seven carries or more, he averaged a mere 3.2 yards per touch. When he received nine attempts or more (four games), that average dropped to 2.7. Still, the 49ers thought enough of Hyde to let Gore walk in free agency, and committed to the Ohio State product as their lead back in 2015.

Early returns were stellar as Hyde exploded to open the season on a Monday Night against the Minnesota Vikings. With a career-high 26 carries, Hyde dominated the game, gaining 168 yards and scoring twice. The performance was surprising on some levels, especially since the San Francisco o-line was expected to be so bad, and it did indeed turn out to be an aberration. In the six games to follow, Hyde would only manage 302 yards while averaging about 3.4 yards per attempt. His season was ultimately cut short by a foot injury he sustained (and in his defense tried to play through), but the questions about him still remained. In the now 13 games Hyde received seven carries or more, he only eclipsed 3.8 yards per attempt four times. In addition to the limited production, it now seemed like his violent running style was also a major injury risk, as Hyde missed 11 games over his first two seasons.

Given what happened to begin his career, 2016 may have been more of a make or break season for Hyde than most people assumed. He was going to be given a shot once again to be the bell cow in new head coach Chip Kelly's offense, and if he didn't see increased production (or wasn't able to stay on the field), his role in San Francisco may have begun to diminish. The o-line was better than in years past, and the thought was the passing attack would be improved as well because of Kelly's system.

Truth be told, Hyde was up and down to start the season, A lot of that was probably due to the fact that the 49ers couldn't throw the ball despite Kelly, but Hyde's performance wasn't overly inspiring. He failed to break 3.8 yards per carry in five of seven contests, making it 14 times in 20 games. He also missed two more weeks because of injury, which continued to paint a bleak picture around his reckless running style.

Returning from injury. Hyde had a rough Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals, running for 14 yards on 13 carries. You'd have to wonder if he would have started to lose some touches if the 49ers had anyone worth giving a shot to behind him, but journeymen (DuJuan Harris, Shaun Draughn) and draft busts (Mike Davis) don't tend to offer much competition. In this case, the general manager's shortcomings may have provided something positive, as Hyde was given every chance to turn things around. Hyde seized the opportunity and didn't look back.

Over the next five games, Hyde was dominant, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt or more in each of them. Overall, he would carry the ball 82 times for 507 yards and add in three receiving touchdowns in Weeks 11-15. He ran fast, hard and decisive, and looked more explosive than he had in some time. Could it have been that he was actually healthy? Did the light finally go on? In today's NFL everyone wants players to come in and make an immediate impact, but sometimes it takes a while (especially when the team is so bad around that player). It's possible that was the case here.

What makes Hyde's late season run even more impressive is that the 49ers only managed more than 177 total yards passing once during that stretch. He was dominating despite defenses centering in on him, which has to give San Francisco hope that he's a player to build around moving forward. The one issue is still his tendency to get injured, though, as he'll miss the last game of the season with a knee injury. Despite the missed time, Hyde's overall numbers were very impressive, accounting for 988 yards on 217 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and scoring nine total touchdowns. His 1,151 yards from scrimmage are 545 more than the next closest 49er (Jeremy Kerley).

Hyde is entering the last year of his rookie contract in 2017, and it would benefit San Francisco to get an extension done with him. Obviously, his injury history will and should factor into the length of the deal, as well as guaranteed money. You can always front load the contract or convert more money to a signing bonus, though, and the 49ers have the cap room to get a deal done easily. On a team without many playmakers, it should be imperative to keep one of the few San Francisco does have in the fold.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013 and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49