Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



As the dust settled on the dumpster fire that was the San Francisco 49ers' 2016 season, very few positives stood out amongst the rubble. As a team, it's hard to find silver linings in a 2-14 debacle, as it tends to be a collective effort when your franchise reaches those depths of ineptitude. Still, there were some solid individual efforts that shouldn't have gone unnoticed, one of which was Carlos Hyde coming into his own towards the end of the year.

In Week's 11-15, Hyde finally became the running back most hoped he would be, carrying the ball 82 times for 507 yards, and adding in three receiving touchdowns. He averaged 4.5 yards or more in each game, which marked the first time in his career he'd shown that kind of consistency. Hyde had previously failed to break 3.8 yards per rush in 15 of the first 21 games in which he received seven carries or more. The hot streak came despite Hyde having no passing attack at all to support him, as the Niners broke 177 total passing yards just once during that stretch. Overall, the former Ohio State Buckeye finished with 1,151 yards from scrimmage in 2016, which was 545 more than the next closest 49er, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley.

If things stayed status quo in San Francisco, Hyde may have received a contract extension this offseason, but as I'm sure you know by now, there are new captains running the ship. General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have their own visions for what their roster will look like, and it's still unknown if Hyde fits into that picture. Considering we're all still getting to know the new regime, it's fair to wonder if they see Hyde, or any of the holdovers for that matter, as long-term options or as easily replaceable parts.

What seems to be working against Hyde more than anything else is his contract status. He's entering the final year of his rookie deal, and with that comes a "damned if you do, damned if don't" situation. Let's say Hyde sticks around and has a tremendous season, gaining upwards of 1,200 yards and scoring double-digit touchdowns. That kind of production in a walk year would fetch him a pretty hefty contract, and there's no way the 49ers would want to pay him. Why? For an answer to that, look no further than Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner. The tandem (as well as Shanahan's father, Mike) has a history of turning mid-round picks and no name runners into a 1,000-yard backs, and therefore wouldn't see a need to pony up to retain someone who's production could be easily replicated. Now, obviously, the flip side to that coin is Hyde struggles in the new system or gets hurt (as he has a history of doing) and in that case wouldn't be wanted back regardless. Either way, his days in San Francisco appear to be numbered.

So while I'll admit the future looks cloudy at best, does it make sense to cut the cord on Hyde now as some have suggested might happen? Well, first and foremost, you'd have to make sure that there are enough talented reinforcements behind the guy you want to get rid of, and the depth chart at running back is far from a sure thing. The only veteran with any sort of track record other than Hyde is the 31-year old Tim Hightower, and he's never been a number one back for any extended period of time. The Niners did swing a draft day trade for Kapri Bibbs, but his only game action came last year with the Denver Broncos, as he's netted just 29 carries in his career. Make no mistake though, if the team moves on from Hyde, it's not about the veterans who might fill in for the short-term, but instead the rookies in which the team has invested.



Shanahan went to bat for fourth-round pick Joe Williams, who was a player Lynch didn't even have on his draft board due to off-field concerns. Once those concerns were alleviated, Williams was in the fold and Shanahan had his next ball carrier. Some feel that Williams' one-cut running style is a much better fit for Shanahan's system than what Hyde brings to the table, and that moving on from Hyde now would give the rookie the opportunity to share time with someone like Hightower as he develops. Not everyone feels that way, however, as KNBR's Larry Krueger told us on the 49ers Webzone No Huddle Podcast.

"There's a lot of people who want to move Carlos off for Joe Williams. People say Joe Williams is going to take Carlos' job. Not the Joe Williams I saw. Not the Joe Williams I saw at Utah. He doesn't have a lot of lower leg strength, he doesn't break a lot of tackles, he's a one-cut and go guy. I didn't even think he was the best Williams in the state of Utah. I thought Jamaal Williams from BYU who went Green Bay in the fourth-round, I thought he was better."

Barring something unforeseen, Shanahan's affection for Williams alone is going to make him a lock for the final 53, but the rookie runner who may push the 49ers to make some unexpected decisions could be Matt Breida from Georgia Southern. Breida turned heads during OTAs, and could force the team's hand to keep him around. Krueger agrees.

"The guy who I'm most eager to see at running back is this guy from Georgia Southern, Matt Breida. Fast, but also doesn't break a lot of tackles, but I'm interested to see Breida. I've got a buddy who scouts the southeast, he swears that Breida's got big-time talent."

Even if both rookies impress, you can never have enough good ball carriers, especially when you consider how frequently injuries happen. Also, the 49ers have more cap room than they know what to do with, so money isn't an issue at all. Given those factors, whether or not Hyde will be around next season should be a moot point, as keeping him on the roster now shouldn't have any sort of a negative effect moving forward. If you want to give Williams and/or Breida more snaps, you can still do that, and keep your most talented back in the fold as well. Because while I guess it's natural to get a little ahead of ourselves sometimes, remember: Hyde is still the most reliable ball carrier on the 49ers until proven otherwise.

Al Sacco is the Senior Writer for 49ers Webzone, and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. In addition to his writing duties, Al is also the co-host of the No Huddle podcast. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49