Carlos Hyde emerged in his junior season as the go-to runner for Ohio State when Urban Meyer arrived and installed his spread offense, which focused heavily on the inside-zone run play. Hyde rushed for 16 touchdowns and 970 yards in just 10 games. As a senior in 2013, Hyde took his game to the next level and garnered all-league honors. He rushed for 7.3 yards per-carry (1,521 yards) and scored 18 times in 11 games. His big senior season vaulted him from middling prospect to the top-ranked running back on most 2014 pre-draft lists. Hyde went off the board in the second round (57th overall), just three picks after Tennessee made Bishop Sankey the first back drafted.
Chip Kelly's offensive system is very similar to the Buckeyes scheme that Hyde excelled in. At the heart of coach Kelly’s offense is the zone run, with emphasis on the inside-zone run. Kelly has said, “the zone run is our ‘go-to-work’ play.” It is the cornerstone to his whole offensive foundation. Hyde has expressed excitement and confidence in Kelly's system throuhgout OTAs. "I definitely believe that his system will help showcase all my abilities," Hyde stated. "Not just as a ball carrier, but also as a threat in the passing game. This system is just a blessing in disguise. I'm really looking forward to this year. I'm very excited about this year. I think it's going to be an exciting year. I’m all the way comfortable with it,” Hyde said. “I can go out there and just play freely. I know all the plays and know exactly what I have to do.”
Flashes of Special Ability in 2015
Hyde opened the 2015 season with a beastly performance on Monday night. He rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns (and added two receptions for 14 yards) against a very good Vikings defense. The highlight was this filthy spin move:
Unfortunately, a foot injury derailed Hyde's 2015 campaign and he ended up on injured reserve after just seven games. In his seven games, Hyde ranked as one of the league's most efficient and elusive backs. He amassed an impressive 2.83 yards after contact per carry. Amongst backs with at least 50 carries, only Marshawn Lynch ranked higher per Pro Football Focus. Amongst the top-44 rushers in 2015, Hyde forced the most missed tackles (.28 per carry).
Hyde has shown up this offseason at a slimmed-down 220 pounds and has impressed observers with his increased quickness and speed. Hyde's limited touches in his first two years have shown the talent is there for him to emerge as one of the league's best young runners.
The hidden upside for Hyde as he enters the 2016 season is his potential to emerge as a force in the passing game. One of the most overlooked aspects of Kelly's offense is how involved he gets the running backs in the passing game. In his three seasons in Philadelphia, Kelly's running backs averaged 87 receptions for 707 yards. With Hyde expected to dominate the backfield snaps (LeSean McCoy saw 79.1% of the snaps in Philadelphia), he has a real chance to catch at least 50 passes. Hyde has noted he is excited about becoming a focal point of the passing game. “I like playing receiver. It’s another opportunity to get out in space and get the ball in your hands," said Hyde. “To me, it’s the feeling that you’re taking over the game. The defense isn’t just worried about your running the ball, they’ve got to worry about you coming out of the backfield, catching the ball and making plays after you catch the ball. It puts stress on the defense and opens up things for other people on the team.”
“I think he certainly has the skillset to be an outstanding running back at this level, because he can do everything,” said head coach Chip Kelly. “You’re looking for a guy who can be a three down back, and that’s certainly what Carlos is." “He’s got really, really good hands,” Kelly said. “It’s interesting from someone that size and that has that skillset as a guy coming out of the backfield. So, it’s certainly something we need to continue to build upon with him.”
- Lack of Serious Competition for Touches - 28-year-old journeyman Shaun Draughn is currently expected to be the backup in San Francisco. Hyde should get as many touches as he can handle and projects for at least 800 snaps if he can stay healthy.
- History of Production from Chip Kelly’s Running Backs - In his three seasons in Philadelphia, Kelly's backs averaged 1,840 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. His backs have also averaged 87 catches for 707 yards.
- Pace - The 49ers averaged just 969 offensive plays over the past two seasons, while he Eagles averaged 1115 over the same stretch. A 15% increase in offensive snaps will substantially increase the production across the board for the 49ers offense on volume alone.
- Injury History - Hyde proved durable throughout his college career and is fully recovered from his 2015 foot injury, but has had some trouble staying healthy in his short NFL career.
- Poor Offense - While Kelly's offenses in Philadelphia finished in the top-13 in scoring in each of his three seasons, the talent surrounding Hyde is questionsable. The 49ers line projects to be near league-average (20th) in Footballguys Offensive Line Rankings. Having the run-threat of a mobile quarterback (Blaine Gabbert ran a 4.61-forty at the combine), will help the line open holes for Hyde. But there are serious questions about the effectiveness of the 49ers passing game.
- Tough Schedule - The NFC West boasts some of the league's best defenses. With a Vegas win total over/under of just 5.5, the 49ers may be forced to play from behind often in 2016.
Outside of the top two rounds, Carlos Hyde is the back with the best opportunity to produce elite fantasy numbers. He should see a heavy workload in a running back-friendly system and has shown flashes of the talent that made him such a highly-touted draft prospect two years ago. He may me more heavily involved in the passing game than most are expecting. The combination of a solid floor and enticing upside makes Hyde a prime target at his current ADP.
Tyler Buecher of Numberfire agrees that Hyde could be poised for a breakout season:
"With recent drafters focusing on wide receivers in the early rounds, Hyde is becoming an even bigger value pick due to this receiver-happy trend we're seeing. Hyde is one of the rare running backs entering an incredible opportunity -- to see volume intersect with ability -- in 2016."
Hyde is a favorite of Pro Football Focus:
"When healthy, Carlos Hyde has quietly emerged as one of the best individual running back in the NFL, independent of his blocking, game flow and supporting cast. He’s fully healthy now after battling a foot issue that derailed his 2015 season, and he’s reportedly dropped a significant amount of weight to prepare himself for Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. Will his real-life success finally lead to sustained fantasy success? Kelly’s track record with running backs would certainly say so."