As good as running back Frank Gore has been for the San Francisco 49ers over the years, it's clear that his time in the NFL is coming to an end. He turned 30 years old in May and is entering the final season of his current three-year, $21 million deal.
Pundits around the league wondered if San Francisco would maybe bring Gore back for another year at the end of the 2014 season, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen, as the 49ers drafted Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde with the 57th pick in the draft.
This, in turn, signals that the 49ers are fully preparing for life beyond Gore.
The pick wasn't surprising considering the value Hyde presented so late in the second round, but one has to wonder if the 49ers planned on drafting a tailback in the second round anyway. The odds of them drafting a running back were high based on Marcus Lattimore's injury history and LaMichael James' murky future with the team, yet most felt that the Niners would snag one on the third day of the draft.
Nevertheless, the Hyde pick is a phenomenal one when you look at how well he fits Greg Roman's offense. Here's what Bill Williamson of ESPN.com had to say about the selection:
I can't argue with the value. The 49ers, with a league-high five picks tonight, waited and let the board come to them. They made two trades and pounced on Hyde. Frank Gore, entering the final year of his contract, is nearing the end of his career. Hyde will be the big back for the 49ers for the next several years. The 49ers continue to rely on a punishing rushing game and this pick confirms it.
Williamson is right—picking Hyde confirms what we already know about the 49ers; they want to pound the rock and control the clock. Personally, I thought the Niners would look to open their offense up after they let Gore walk next year, but it looks like I'm wrong.
Me being wrong is by no means a bad thing, because San Francisco has had a ton of success on the ground since head coach Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. Over the course of the last three years, the 49ers finished with the eighth-most rushing yards in 2011, the fourth-most rushing yards in 2012 and the third-most rushing yards in 2013.
With the addition of Hyde, San Francisco could easily lead the league in rushing next year. Moreover, per Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group, the 230-pound bruiser said the 49ers told him that he could help them "get to that next level and get that trophy."
By the sounds of it, the Niners will be counting on Hyde to contribute and make an immediate impact in 2014. This should be music to 49ers fans' ears.
Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com noted in Hyde's scouting report that the third-team All-American has a tendency to take over games and get better as they go on. That sounds awfully familiar, because Gore has been taking games over for years.
Even though the 49ers may have had more pressing needs in the second round, they couldn't have picked a better player at 57. Not only is Hyde the future of the 49ers' running game, but he's the future of the 49ers offense as a whole.
As long as Harbaugh is in the Bay Area, the focal point of Roman's offense will always be the running game. Everything the 49ers do through the air is predicated on how successful the ground game is. If the ground game is struggling, odds are the passing game will be grounded as well.