Over the course of the last four years, general manager Trent Baalke drafted four running backs. In 2011, the 49ers selected Kendall Hunter in the fourth round. In 2012, they drafted LaMichael James in the second round. In 2013, they used a fourth-round pick on Marcus Lattimore. And in 2014, they carefully chose Carlos Hyde with their first pick on the second day of the draft.
All four players mentioned above were highly touted coming out of college, yet only one of them can be Frank Gore's eventual successor. Some thought Hunter would be that guy after he put together an impressive rookie campaign, while others believed Lattimore would seamlessly transition into that role based on the fact he's finally healthy.
Unfortunately for Hunter and Lattimore, it seems like neither player will get the chance to take over for Gore when the 49ers move on from him. Why? Because Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com is certain "Hyde’s addition clearly sets up the 49ers for life after Frank Gore."
Yet before we look too far down the road and project Hyde's long-term worth in San Francisco, it's important to understand what the rookie tailback can bring to the 49ers backfield in 2014.
The first thing Hyde brings to the table is a unique running style that no other backup running back on the 49ers roster possesses. Much like Gore, the 235-pound back is a bruiser who enjoys punishing defenders and breaking tackles in the open field.
Here's what the folks at NFL Draft Geek had to say about Hyde's running style in their scouting report:
Hyde is a throwback running back in the way he’s big, physical, takes defenders head-on, and drives through would-be tacklers. While Hyde most often displays his physicality in his running style, he also possesses good feet and vision.
On this fourth-quarter run against the University of Iowa, Hyde displays his physicality as he bulldozes through three Iowa defenders on his way to the end zone from 19 yards out.
Yet, Hyde's eye-opening power run versus the Hawkeyes was one of many during his senior season at Ohio State. For a case in point, take a look at this strenuous 12-yard scamper.
On this run against Illinois, Hyde broke two arm tackles and secured a first down by lowering his head and bowling two defenders over. As you can see, Hyde garners a ton of yards after contact and rarely goes down near the line of scrimmage.
This would explain his ridiculous yards per carry average. In 2013, Hyde averaged 7.3 yards per carry and was only stopped behind the line of scrimmage for a loss on three different occasions.
In addition to his unique running style that showcases physicality and vision, Hyde has shown that he can catch the ball out of the backfield effortlessly. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com says the well-built runner is a "soft hands-catcher."
Despite only catching 34 passes during his collegiate career, Hyde exhibited on multiple occasions that he could catch the ball with ease and score at a moment's notice on a simple swing pass out of the backfield.
When the Buckeyes squared off against the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl, Hyde gave Ohio State the lead late in the fourth quarter when quarterback Braxton Miller connected with him on a 14-yard delay route.
Sure, Hyde was wide open on the play, but how do you think he got wide open? Out of the backfield, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. He sucked the defender in close to the line of scrimmage and subsequently ran by him down the right sideline.
If that play wasn't convincing enough, examine this first-quarter reception versus Illinois. Aside from the fact Hyde caught the ball in stride, he made a tackler miss, setup his blockers perfectly and outran the opposition down the sideline.
Lastly, Hyde proved time and time again that he is a willing and able blocker. 49ers fans, does that sound familiar? It should. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Gore was the highest-rated blocker at his position last year.
Gore tallied a plus-10.8 grade in 761 snaps.
Clearly, Hyde isn't developed enough to amass a plus-10.8 grade like Gore did. Yet, it's safe to say he will stonewall blitzers in their tracks when he's asked to. Ryan Lownes of Bleacher Report said Hyde showed great effort in pass protection and even possessed a nasty streak at times.
On this play against Penn State, Hyde does something few running backs in the NFL are asked to do. He throws a successful down block for the quarterback on a read-option play.
Hyde's ability to throw effective down blocks on read-option plays could end up being huge, because the 49ers like to call designed runs for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Here's another example of Hyde's run-blocking ability on called run plays for the quarterback:
In the GIF above, it's evident Hyde will do whatever it takes to take the opposition down. As he heads upfield, he identifies his target, takes the proper angle and delivers the final blow. By throwing a cut block in that situation, it allows the quarterback to pick up five to six additional yards.
In the end, watching Hyde play at Ohio State is like watching Gore play in San Francisco. Both players have similar running styles, both players are good pass-catchers out of the backfield and both players are active blockers.
The only difference is Gore is an established veteran in the NFL, and Hyde isn't. Yes, Hyde will have his fair share of opportunities to impress San Francisco's coaching staff with the things he does well, yet the 49ers will bring him along slowly as long as Gore is still in the mix.
Odds are Hyde will take 300-some snaps and log 115 carries like Hunter did when he was a rookie. And that's a best-case scenario for him in 2014 considering Lattimore, Hunter and James will all be fighting for playing time as well.
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