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Player Faceoff: RB Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Carlos Hyde

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Phil Alexander

If I hear one more time about how Kyle Shanahan "banged the table" for Joe Williams, I'm going to be sick. When the rubber meets the road, Shanahan is going to play his best players, and there's no question Hyde is the best running back on the 49ers roster. In fact, it's near impossible to argue Hyde wasn't San Francisco's best player in 2016.

Hyde finished last season as the RB15, a ranking which improves to RB10 on a per game basis. The top-10 finish was remarkable considering Hyde's surroundings in San Francisco.

  • The 49ers average scoring margin was -10.7, which placed them ahead of only Cleveland. Negative game scripts were the rule for San Francisco.
  • The 49ers offensive line ranked dead last in Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards metric, which assigns offensive line responsibility to each running back carry. It could be argued their offensive line was the worst in the NFL.
  • The 49ers averaged 19.3 points per game (26th). With the exception of Jordan Howard, every other top-10 running back came from an offense that averaged 23.8 points per game (14th) or better.

With the deck stacked against him, Hyde still rumbled for 1,151 scrimmage yards and nine total touchdowns. He carried the team's offense on his back the same way he did as a senior at Ohio State in 2014 -- with defenders bouncing off him on most of his runs.

Hyde also displayed soft hands as a receiver, catching 82% of the passes thrown his way, including three touchdowns. This is a promising sign now that he's playing in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Devonta Freeman is coming off back-to-back 50+ catch seasons the last two years under Shanahan, and Williams -- Hyde's main competition for touches -- rarely caught passes at Utah.

While we're on the topic of the 49ers new head coach, I imagine the main argument against Hyde centers around his supposed poor fit in the outside zone blocking scheme Shanahan swears by. While it's true Hyde profiles as the perfect back for a power blocking scheme, we shouldn't be so quick to assume he can't excel behind outside zone blocking when he's barely tried it before.

Steve Slaton, Ryan Torain, Alfred Morris. These names have two things in common:

  1. They all made significant fantasy impacts in Shanahan's scheme.
  2. They are all decidedly less talented running backs than Hyde.

Maybe Slaton, Torain, and Morris ran with better vision than Hyde. And maybe they were better at making the one-foot cuts Shanahan is so fond of, but Hyde brings a different set of skills to the table that I'm sure Shanahan will figure out how to utilize -- power, explosiveness, surprising short space quickness, and the ability to shed arm tackles with ease. In short, Hyde is a "real good running back". Here's what Shanahan thinks about "real good running backs".

“I think Devonta (Freeman) in our scheme in Atlanta is how Devonta, to me, would have been in any scheme. If you’re a real good running back, you’re going to be a real good running back. I think people overrate that a lot personally. Carlos was a great running back in college and he has put some real good things on tape so far in the NFL and that’s why I look forward to having him and getting to work with him. I think it goes the same across the board. People, I think, overrate a little bit too much the scheme. If you’re a good running back in this league, you’re going to be good in your scheme, whatever that is.”

There's also this pre-NFL Draft nugget from Shanahan on Hyde:

"Carlos is a guy who I was a fan of coming out of college. He had a real good career there. I looked at him hard when I think I was in Cleveland at the time and had a good feeling he was going to be a great back then. I don’t think he’s a finished product. I think there’s a lot more to his game and I look forward to us helping him bring that out.”

As for Williams poaching Hyde's touches, one thing is certain at this point -- we can forget about Williams on third-downs. Not only did Williams rarely catch passes at Utah, he showed zilch as a pass blocker. Hyde has the hands and pass blocking skills to seize the third-down role and is a mortal lock for short yardage and goal line duties.

Even if Williams were to carve out 8-10 rush attempts per game, it could be argued that's a good thing for Hyde. It's undeniable Hyde has had trouble staying healthy dating back to college. Perhaps having another capable back to take some of the load off can help him stay fresh. Regardless, Shanahan's offenses haven't finished out of the top-half of the league in rush attempts since 2011. There's room here for another running back to get involved, while leaving Hyde with enough opportunity for another low-end RB1 season.

As always in fantasy football, the bottom line is value. Since the 49ers drafted Williams and beat writer speculation began that Hyde was a poor scheme fit, his ADP has tanked nearly two full rounds. Did I love the idea of hitching my wagon to Hyde (and the 49ers offense) as my RB1 in Round 2? No way. But now that he's lasting to the late fourth-round, Hyde -- as your RB2 -- has the potential to put your team over the top.

Low Side: Jason Wood

Fantasy owners refused to give up on Carlos Hyde after two woefully disappointing seasons. In his first two years (2014-2015), Hyde managed just 198 carries for 803 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and seven rushing touchdowns. He missed 11 games and failed to crack the Top 50 fantasy running backs in either season. In spite of his slow start, fantasy owners found renewed hope when Chip Kelly was hired to revamp the moribund 49ers offense. Kelly’s reputation as an offensive genius was tested as San Francisco finished the season 27th in points scored and 31st in yards. Kelly was fired after one season, and Kyle Shanahan takes over after an impressive run as the Falcons offensive coordinator. As much as Chip Kelly failed the team, he did manage to extract the best from Hyde. Hyde gained 1,151 yards from scrimmage and scored nine touchdowns; he finished as the 15th best fantasy running back.

One might argue Hyde’s Top-15 finish last year combined with a better coaching staff bodes well for his prospects in 2017 and beyond. I wholeheartedly disagree. Hyde was solid last year, but he missed three games and ended the season on the sidelines, again. Durability matters, particularly for a coach that relied on the ground game in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Injuries aside, the larger concern is Hyde’s fit in Shanahan’s offense. Hyde excelled last year in Chip Kelly’s power run-blocking scheme. Shanahan uses a zone-blocking scheme, which requires a patient runner with vision. Both GM John Lynch and several well-known beat writers have called into question Hyde’s fit in a zone-blocking offense.

As I see it, Hyde is an oft-injured veteran without a good fit in the new blocking scheme. The 49ers new staff owes no loyalty to him and also has little incentive to give him the benefit of the doubt over rookie Joe Williams or veteran free agent Tim Hightower. Hyde may be the starter, but this could turn into a committee quickly.

Even if you think Hyde can hold off Williams and Hightower for the season, the 49ers project as a losing team this year. The rebuilding effort is going to lead to plenty of blowouts, and the game script may not allow for a commitment to the ground game. Injuries plus scheme plus supporting cast equal a huge DO NOT DRAFT sign around Hyde’s neck at his current average draft position.