Heading into the 2010 draft, the 49ers have several decisions to make regarding the running back position. Frank Gore's status as the starter is undeniable, but after that the picture gets a little cloudy.
Let's start by taking a quick look at the backs currently on the roster, and evaluate their perceived value to the team. (Note: Fullback is a separate issue, and as such we will be focusing on the tailback position only.)
Singletary and Raye expected to build the offense around Gore in 2008, but struggles on the offensive line and predictability in the play calling corralled this option early in the season.
Regardless, Gore is a playmaker with plenty of gas left in the tank, and easily stands as the No. 1 running back on the team.
With only one year under his belt, and very little playing time to speak of, Coffee is a big question mark. Coffee was a beast in college, but hasn't really shown the ability to take it to the next level.
Only a year removed from third-round pick status, Coffee will be given the benefit of the doubt, however, his No. 2 status on the depth chart could be in danger if he is outperformed in camp by a newcomer.
Robinson's value has been on special teams, but that may not be enough to keep him around this year.
In the NFL, teams expect the No. 3 back to be productive at more than just special teams. His spot seems ripe for the picking as the team could use a quick change-of-pace back more than it could a mediocre special teamer.
In addition to Gore, Coffee, and Robinson, Thomas Clayton is also expected to return to the team following a season that saw him sidelined due to an ACL injury. His status with the team was in question prior to the injury, and his chances of making the roster this year are a long shot at best.
With the exception of Gore, the running back position seems to be an area that the 49ers may choose to address at some point in the draft. With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the options available to us in 2010:
C.J. Spiller, Clemson (Projected First Round)
Enough has been written about Spiller to know what he offers. The question is whether or not the team is willing to part with a first round pick for his services.
The fact is, it's becoming less and less likely that Spiller will be available when we pick at 13, and by all accounts the Niners would like to spend that pick on an area of greater need regardless.
Jahvid Best, California (Projected First or Second Round)
Arguably the best (no pun intended) back in the 2010 class, Jahvid's stock has fallen primarily due to injury concerns. When healthy, he's a speedy, elusive back with excellent vision.
Best has great hands, and can easily turn a short screen or dump-off into a huge gain. If he's able to stay healthy—which is a big "if"—Best could prove to be one of the most successful RBs to emerge from the 2010 RB class.
Toby Gerhart, Stanford (Projected Second Round)
Gerhart wowed college football nation last year with his combination of power and speed. Having played for Stanford, more than a few Bay Area fans would be pleased to see him in red and gold.
For those that question his speed, Gerhart clocked in at 4.5 during the Combine. To put that in perspective, Gore ran a 4.65 at his combine.
Joe McKnight, USC (Projected Second or Third Round)
McKnight is expected to contribute as a change of pace back in the NFL, but not much more.
Quick and agile, he can make defensive players miss, and has the ability to break on every play. He has good hands as well, although he has had issues with fumbles in the past.
McKnight is expected to fall to the second or third round, largely because of what many consider a disappointing career at USC.
Lonyae Miller, Fresno St. (Projected Fourth or Fifth Round)
Miller lacks a decent college resume for a very good reason. He played behind Ryan Matthews, the leading rusher in the NCAA, and therefore his chances were limited. He did impress when given the chance, and shined at the Senior Bowl, moving his draft stock up quite a bit.
Miller is not expected to start at the next level, but could provide depth to a team lacking a RB with big play potential.
Abdul "Deji" Karim, Southern Illinois (Projected Seventh Round)
Karim isn't a household name because he played for a smaller school, however his ability speaks for itself. He shows the type of instinct, acceleration, and agility normally attributed to first round picks.
Surprisingly powerful for his size (5'9", 210), he also possess excellent ball control, having never fumbled in his 579 collegiate carries. If he falls to Round Seven as projected, Deji Karim may very well be the steal of the draft.
So the question remains, should the 49ers address the RB position in the 2010 draft? The answer, in my opinion, is yes. There's an open spot (Robinson's) that needs to be filled by a player that can contribute on offense. And with Coffee's ability to produce still up in the air, a third option seems more of a necessity than a luxury.
With plenty of legitimate options available in this year's deep draft class, there should be no excuse for ignoring this need.
Pick one early or pick one late, but don't expect the lackluster rushing game to improve if you don't pick one at all.