The 49ers go into the 2015 season believing they have three reasons to be optimistic about their running game, even with the departure of Frank Gore.
Those reasons are Carlos Hyde, Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush.
Together, those three backs – each with a different style and strength – could create a dangerous rushing trio. Add rookie Mike Davis into the mix, and San Francisco’s offense could actually be more versatile than it was in 2014 – though Gore was a given talent, and this group has yet to prove itself over a full season together.
“Right now we’ve got three guys in the backfield that we feel great about,” said new head coach Jim Tomsula this spring. “They’re all just a little different from each other. So as we get rolling here and we throw the ball out on the field, let’s take a look at what each guy does and build off that.”
But as much as Hunter, Bush and even Davis bring to the offense, it seems likely that Hyde will emerge as the team’s No. 1 running back over the course of the season.
In fact, Hyde was selected by a panel of NFL.com writers recently to be among 20 players in the NFL who are likely to make a big leap forward in 2015 to become bonafide NFL standouts.
Hyde carried just 83 times in 2014, but was productive, averaging 4.0 yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns.
“The 6-foot, 235-pound back displayed power and quick one-cut ability as a rookie,” wrote Kevin Patra of NFL.com. “According to Pro Football Focus, Hyde forced 25 missed tackles on his 83 carries (30.1 percent), a rate that puts him just below the likes of (Seahawks star) Marshawn Lynch (31.4).”
In analyzing Hyde, Patra noted several instances in 2014 when Hyde made even sure tacklers – such as Seattle’s Bobby Wagner – miss in the open field. Also, wrote Patra, Hyde’s skill as a pass blocker was advanced for a rookie, which will earn him plenty of playing time.
“With Bush and Hunter on the roster, it might take a few weeks to sort out, but Hyde should eventually take over as the primary back,” wrote Patra. “His combination of size and speed is the best bet for the 49ers to get consistent production from their backfield.”
Patra projects Hyde for about 900 yards rushing on 200 carries in 2015.
Niners GM Trent Baalke, who drafted Hyde out of Ohio State, also is optimistic about Hyde’s chances of making a big impact this season. Baalke recently told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that Hyde has dropped 15 pounds and is looking “extremely good” with the additional quickness.