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Campfire Chat: What's Going to Happen in the San Francisco Backfield?

The Footballguys staff hangs out and discusses what's going on in San Francisco

There are lots of unknowns in the 49ers backfield. Carlos Hyde is back, but he seems to disappoint more than not. Kyle Shanahan banged the table for Joe Williams. Tim Hightower ended 2016 as the starter and is still hanging around. Will San Francisco be good enough to have a fantasy-relevant back? Do you have a player you are targeting here?

Chad Parsons: The saga of Carlos Hyde has been one of the more entertaining ones of the offseason. Recent comments have been a more positive tone than the warning shots for months. Hyde came into camp at 228 pounds - his lightest in years - and the coaching staff noted how he looks dedicated. Considering Hyde is clearly the most talented back on the roster, the entire process felt like an intense class in 'tough love' by the new coaching staff early in the offseason.

I do not give much credence to the Joe Williams buzz since the draft. Williams will have his hands full as a Day 3 rookie with a low BMI to unseat savvy veteran Tim Hightower - who has been a significant fantasy factor the last two seasons - for the primary backup role, let along challenge Carlos Hyde for the starting spot.

There is plenty of value in the 49ers offense as all significant pieces are affordable considering a boost (hard not to) from their dysfunctional state is likely in 2017.

I am buying Carlos Hyde in the RB20 range of ADP. Tim Hightower is even more of a buy recommendation with Joe Williams as an avoid valuation.

Alex Miglio: I love Carlos Hyde. Until he actually loses his job or gets traded/cut, I am choosing to ignore the rumors. Like Chad said, Joe Williams is more likely to be fighting for the backup job than the starter.

Yes, the scheme is different under Kyle Shanahan, but who says Hyde can't adjust? He had a good season on an otherwise abysmal offense last season, and I expect him to remain the starter this year. He came into camp in great shape, to boot.

Hyde's price has been steadily discounted because of all the rumors. Taking him as a back-end RB2 makes a ton of sense. He's going as late as the fifth in recent drafts, a huge value.

Will Grant: The biggest threat to Hyde being the primary fantasy back in SF this year is his inability to stay healthy. Last season was his best as a pro, but he still managed just 235 touches for the year. As Chad mentioned though, he's in the best shape of his career coming into camp and he's impressed the staff so far. He's in a great position to maintain his role as the lead back.

Tim Hightower has been very average throughout his NFL career, and he's not with his fourth team in seven seasons. For a guy who had 10 rushing touchdowns as a rookie, he had just nine over the last two years in New Orleans.

Joe Williams was a mid-round add for the 49ers but one of his biggest knocks coming out of college was his inability to catch the ball and his poor commitment to pass blocking. A rookie RB who can't block in the NFL doesn't make the starting lineup and given how the 49er offense projects to be behind a lot this year, they are going to need all the help that they can get.

I think Hyde is reasonable RB2 or Flex option depending on your starting lineup requirements, but you'll want to make sure that you have some reasonable depth against him to guard against injury. He'll be good for about 1150 yards and 6-7 touchdowns this season. The rest of the crew are probably only spot starters or candidates in best-ball leagues.

Jason Wood: Hyde's nickname should be Pyrite. The guy is fool's gold.

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. Hyde finally delivered last season playing for Chip Kelly. Hyde gained 1,151 yards from scrimmage and scored nine touchdowns; he finished as the 15th best fantasy running back.

Sure, Hyde was solid last year, but he missed three games and ended the season on the sidelines, again. Durability matters. Injuries aside, the larger concern is Hyde’s fit in Shanahan’s offense. As an oft-injured veteran without a good fit in the new blocking scheme, Hyde could be in real trouble with a poor camp. 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.

Even if you think Hyde can hold off the competition, 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.

Jeff Tefertiller: If you are fading Hyde, as many are, Tim Hightower is the likely beneficiary. He is worth a roster spot in most leagues, whether you think Hyde will be released, traded, or fail to remain healthy.

Phil Alexander: I can understand being leery of Hyde before the NFL Draft when his ADP was in the second round, but now that he's routinely lasting to the fourth or fifth, his RB1 upside makes him a relative bargain.

Negative game scripts?

Hyde finished as the RB9 on a per game basis last year, while the 49ers had the second-worst average scoring differential in the league. The hiring of Kyle Shanahan as head coach all but assures San Francisco can't be much worse than they were last year.

Poor scheme fit?

Is Shanahan failing to get the most out of his best offensive player really the most likely outcome? Granted, Hyde projects as a better fit for power blocking than the outside zone Shanahan prefers, but what he lacks in vision, he more than makes up for with explosiveness, short space quickness, and the ability to shed arm tackles. Despite the tough love from 49ers brass Chad Parsons alluded to, Shanahan and GM, John Lynch, are both on record stating they believe Hyde will have a big season.

Joe Williams?

Will Grant nailed it. He was a reach for San Francisco in the fourth round, and there are major questions about his pass blocking and ability as a pass catcher. Those limitations suggest Williams won't see the field on third downs, which means Hyde has to be considered the favorite for third down duties to go along with the short yardage and goal line work he's a near-lock to receive. Doesn't leave much for anyone else.


Okay, you got me. Hyde is always hurt. But every year a guy that's always hurt doesn't get hurt and turns out to be a championship difference maker. As long as he's healthy headed into the season, it's wrong to assume Hyde will get hurt again simply because that's what happened the last two years.

Andy Hicks: Like most of the others have mentioned there is not going to be a major fantasy winner in the 49ers backfield this year. There will be productive weeks, but this is clearly a situation where the team is given time to build and that doesn't include the running back position in 2017. Carlos Hyde is in the last year of his rookie deal and there is enough smoke to suggest that the match between Hyde and the Kyle Shanahan offense isn't a good one. He will get used, but unless he can adapt and there are serious concerns he won't, his time is likely to be reduced as the year wears on. Tim Hightower is being brought in to help keep the floor higher. I wouldn't expect a big impact from a fantasy perspective, but Shanahan saw enough from Hightower when their paths crossed in 2011 in Washington to add him as a veteran presence.

Joe Williams will need to make this year count. 4th round rookie running backs often don't see a second NFL contract, especially if they start slowly. Shanahan has faith that Williams can be the back of the future, but he will move on quickly when it doesn't happen. Williams will get a serious shot at the position, at the expense of Hyde, at some stage this season. I don't expect the result to end well, but he has what you want in a late round running back, upside. Hyde's price is likely too high given the risk he is likely to face.

Stephen Holloway: Carlos Hyde will be given every opportunity to prove himself worthy of staying in San Francisco. He has had limited success and is a bargain this season in the last year of his rookie contract. The entire team is lacking in top level competitors in Shanahan's first season, so both Hyde and Joe Williams will get a shot. Hightower is on a one-year $1,000,000 contract and unlikely to be there long. In what is undoubtedly is the beginning of a re-build in San Francisco, either Hyde or Williams will be given opportunities to sell themselves as future main-stays. If neither measures up, the entire depth chart at running back could be in a do-over next season. Hyde could be a value pick, but he must produce early on. Otherwise, Williams will have an opportunity.

Chris Feery: I’m in the camp that believes Carlos Hyde offers up a nice value opportunity at his current ADP. Early reports on Joe Williams point to him being a work in progress. Tim Hightower is a serviceable veteran and a nice fill-in starter in the real world, but that doesn’t translate into much to get excited about for fantasy purposes. Barring the light bulb going on for Williams real soon, I fully expect Hyde to have the lead back role on lockdown when the season kicks off. As such, I’m fully comfortable selecting him as an RB2 when the opportunity presents itself.

Danny Tuccitto: The 49ers are a bad team in need of talent, so they absolutely should be shopping their best offensive player, especially given that he plays a position that's so replaceable. That said, if Hyde doesn't get traded before Week 1 and is able to stay healthy for the whole season, he'll either be the undisputed man or split the load with Tim Hightower.

People are looking to the Freeman/Coleman duo in Atlanta as a "Kyle Shanahan blueprint," and are extrapolating it to San Francisco to say the duo will be their Top 2 running backs: Either Hyde and Joe Williams or maybe Hyde and Matt Breida for the ambitious among us. No, the lesson -- if there is one -- is that Shanahan prefers two dual-threat backs. This makes perfect strategic sense because it allows an offense to not tip off their plays based on personnel groupings.

In San Francisco, Hyde and Hightower are the only dual-threat backs on the roster. (Williams and Breida aren't receiving threats, while Kyle Juszczyk isn't a running threat.) One might argue that Hyde isn't a receiving threat, but he's got a far better skill set in that regard than he's been allowed to show more regularly -- because bad coaches are bad.

So yeah, barring trade or injury, my money's on something like 75 percent that Hyde's the three-down workhorse and 25 percent that he's in a 65/35 committee with Hightower.

Ari Ingel: Hyde. Rock solid RB2. Next question.