San Francisco 49ers Need Plan B For Hyde, Should Draft A Running Back

Oct 24, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 24, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers had a potent ground game in 2016 and will need to keep that momentum going by drafting a running back in the upcoming NFL Draft.

The San Francisco 49ers, offensively speaking, really only had one thing going for them last season – the ground game. Behind Carlos Hyde, the 49ers powered their way to the league’s fourth best rushing attack. Now, if they’d only had a passing game that could make something – anything – happen, San Francisco might have been a little more competitive.

Although the running back position has been devalued overall with the emergence of pass-heavy offensive systems, the need for a solid ground game is still vital. Running to set up the pass is still very much a thing and you aren’t going to see many offenses succeed, let alone be prolific, without a viable threat on the ground.

The 49ers absolutely have a viable threat in Hyde. But as they roll into the 2017 season, it’s perhaps, time they start looking for more help in the backfield. Perhaps even, in time – though, maybe not nearly as long as one might think – a replacement.

The fact of the matter is that Hyde is entering the final year of his rookie deal. And as of now, the jury is out on whether or not the 49ers will try to get another deal worked out for him. On the one hand, Hyde has been fantastic with the ball in his hands, running for almost 1,000 yards on just 217 carries last season – a pretty solid average of 4.6 yards per carry.

On the other hand, there is Hyde’s injury history to consider when thinking about signing him to another deal. Over his first three seasons in the league, Hyde has appeared in just 34 games, making just 20 starts over that span.

Hyde’s durability is a legitimate question mark – and reason for concern – as he has yet to complete a full slate of games in a season.

But, perhaps it’s better if we kick the can that is a new deal (or not) for Hyde down the road a bit. What we do know is that he will be in the 49ers backfield in 2017. Which bodes well for the San Francisco ground game.

However, what should be a little troubling is the depth behind Hyde. There is Mike Davis, who last season, had a whopping 50 yards on just 19 touches last season. Then there’s the recently signed veteran, Tim Hightower, who’s been in and out of football and has a pretty extensive injury history of his own. Though, to be fair, Hightower – unlike Hyde – has played a full slate of 16 games in four of his six full seasons in the league.

Suffice it to say, the ground game – aside from Hyde – is suspect. At best. If Hyde were to go down with injury – and history tells us it’s more likely than not – the 49ers’ ground game could be in pretty bleak shape.

All of this, taken as a whole, gives a pretty compelling reason why the 49ers should strongly consider taking a running back in the Draft. And though there are plenty of solid backs in the field, there aren’t many who could be total game changers right off the bat.

Leonard Fournette. Christian McCaffrey. Dalvin Cook. Those are the three names that have been at the top of the Draft boards for some time now. Most scouts and experts agree that those are the three most pro-ready players on the board and the ones who can potentially make the biggest difference the soonest.

Next: Some Solid Options For The Second Overall Pick

Some might scoff at the idea of taking a running back with the second overall pick given the devaluation of running backs in this day and age. But then, talents like Fournette, McCaffrey, and Cook don’t come around all that often, either.

Any one of those three can help solidify San Francisco’s ground game, can help open up the passing game for Brian Hoyer – or perhaps, Kirk Cousins next season – can fill in if Hyde goes down with injury. He can also split the workload, giving the 49ers two solid, productive backs – and hopefully help keep Hyde fresh and injury-free.

And should the 49ers opt to not pursue Hyde when he hits the open market next season, they’ll already have a dynamic running back to keep their ground game rolling along without missing a beat.

The 49ers have needs up and down their roster. Sitting at number two in the Draft order, they almost can’t go wrong no matter which way they go. But given that fact, they might want to address a position that will become a need next season. A position that will be crucial to the team’s offensive success.

Fournette, McCaffrey, and Cook are all elite talents. They don’t come around all that often. San Francisco should really consider pulling the trigger and taking one of them – if, for no other reason, than to have a solid Plan B in place for Carlos Hyde.