Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports



The San Francisco 49ers have added some competition at running back behind presumed No. 1 Carlos Hyde. With additions like rookie tailback Joe Williams from the NFL Draft, how will the depth chart look in Week 1 of the regular season?


Despite boasting the NFL's fourth best rushing offense in 2016, the San Francisco 49ers certainly weren't content about their ground attack entering this offseason.

The incumbent No. 1 runner, Carlos Hyde, failed again to reach the 1,000 rushing-yard mark last season -- a year marked by even more injuries and the inability to truly carry an offense on his shoulders. Granted, the Niners didn't exactly boast a strong run-blocking offensive line. But it's safe to say the new 49ers brass is losing its patience with Hyde as the featured back.

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With added bodies this offseason, including fourth-round draftee Joe Williams, how will San Francisco's regular-season depth chart look at this critical position?

It's important to note head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense relies heavily on the ground attack. Despite prolific passing weapons last year with the Atlanta Falcons -- quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, etc. -- Shanahan's 2016 offense actually wound up ranking fifth in the league in rushing with 1,928 yards.

Part of this success was having a two-headed approach with Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who combined for 1,599 of those yards.

We shouldn't expect San Francisco's ground game to be quite as dynamic this year. But the same two-headed approach may apply.

Who Starts for the 49ers?


There's an argument, likely sparked by the aforementioned team frustration with Hyde, that Williams is the favorite to eventually unseat Hyde as the team's featured back. Perhaps even immediately. Even NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco suggested this as a real possibility. It helps that the Niners "hand picked" Williams, thanks to influence from both Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner.

Let's assume, for a moment, this happens and Williams emerges as the No. 1 option. Is Hyde out of the picture? Not in the least.


Indeed, Niners Wire's Jerod Brown broke down why a one-two punch at this position might work well for San Francisco, especially with Hyde being more of the complementary, bruising tailback.

Brown wrote:

Outside zone runs often force defenders to overpursue, fearful of edge runs becoming scores. Williams can be the bait to force defenses to overcommit, leaving an opportunity for Hyde to punish anxious defenders up the middle with power and counter runs that suit his abilities.

Rounding Out the Depth Chart


OK, so we've at least nailed down the first two players for San Francisco this season -- Williams and Hyde. Or Hyde and Williams (we'll get to that in a moment). What about the remaining depth?

Shanahan should be expected to keep at least three, potentially four, running backs on his 53-man roster this season. The exact number will be contingent on how well another player can contribute on special teams.

The 49ers have both veteran and rookie talent to consider here. General manager John Lynch brought in Tim Hightower, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, as well as Kapri Bibbs during a draft-day trade with the Denver Broncos. And Raheem Mostert rounds out this crop of veterans.

The Niners coaching staff can't sleep on rookie undrafted free agent Matt Breida, either. The former Georgia Southern product has been one of the most impressive rookies in 49ers minicamp so far, according to KNBR 680's Kevin Jones:


This remaining group of Breida, Hightower, Bibbs and Mostert are competing for one, possibly two, spots on the depth chart.

Hightower, 30 years old, isn't a part of the team's long-term plans. And it's hard to see Mostert making the roster either. That leaves Breida and Bibbs. Bibbs has special teams ability, so that helps.

Based off all this, the 49ers' Week 1 depth chart may look something like this:

  1. Carlos Hyde
  2. Joe Williams
  3. Tim Hightower
  4. Kapri Bibbs

Hyde winds up being the Week 1 starter over Williams, although it wouldn't be a shock to see him lose that particular spot at some point this season. Just not right away.

Despite his age, Hightower makes the 53-man roster based off his previous experience with Shanahan when both were with the Washington Redskins. San Francisco has signed a number of players, including quarterback Brian Hoyer and wide receiver Pierre Garcon, to serve as tutors for Shanahan's offense. Hightower fits the bill in the backfield.

Bibbs gets the edge over Breida in this case, largely based off his previous NFL experience and the fact that few undrafted free agents make a 53-man roster their rookie seasons.

Should this be the case, and the 49ers are continually impressed with Breida in training camp, it wouldn't be a shock to see the rookie limited in preseason action in an attempt to stash him on the practice squad.

Of course, don't expect this depth chart to be exactly what the Niners employ over the entirety of 2017.

Peter Panacy has been writing about the 49ers since 2011 for outlets like Bleacher Report, Niner Noise and 49ers Webzone and is occasionally heard as a guest on San Francisco's 95.7 FM The Game. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @PeterPanacy on Twitter.