This past season was to be Carlos Hyde’s big chance.
After a year of backing up veteran Frank Gore, the second-year running back from Ohio State was going to be the 49ers’ No. 1 back in 2015, and it was expected the team would give him 20-25 carries per game. The 49ers said they would ride their running game, and Hyde, as much as possible.
But that didn’t happen.
After Hyde had an amazing opening performance on national television, rushing for 168 yards and two touchdowns in San Francisco’s 20-3 victory over Minnesota, it was all downhill for both Hyde and the Niners.
Hyde suffered a foot injury on Oct. 11 against the New York Giants and played just two more games. The 49ers, who would finish 5-11, didn’t have Hyde for their final nine games. Not only did they lose Hyde, but they also lost Reggie Bush early in the season, then had to shuffle a number of running backs through their backfield as more injuries took their toll.
San Francisco finished 21st in the league in rushing, averaging just 96.5 yards per game.
But Hyde, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 12 (because of a stress fracture in his left foot), should be able to come back strong for 2016.
As Curtis Crabtree of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk noted in December, the 49ers were smart to sideline Hyde for the rest of the season and let him get better.
“It’s the right move for San Francisco to make,” Crabtree wrote at the time the Niners put Hyde on injured reserve. “Hyde is a promising talent and the 49ers are going nowhere this season.”
Before his injury, Hyde was terrific. He carried the ball just 115 times in seven games but rushed for 470 yards and three TDs and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. He also caught 11 passes for 53 yards. If he’d averaged 20 carries per game over a full season, he’d have rushed for 1,312 yards.
Though the 49ers will need to bring in at least one more running back to complement Hyde, Mike Davis and whoever else is brought back for 2016, Hyde showed he can be a featured back. Through the first four games of 2015, Hyde was singled out by the analytics website Pro Football Focus as one of the NFL’s best backs and the No. 1 ballcarrier in the league for forcing missed tackles (19).
Even in the game against the Giants in October, when Hyde suffered his foot injury, the 6-foot, 235-pounder rushed for 93 yards and often punished would-be tacklers. Part of his style is to attack opposing players as much as they want to attack him.
“I’ve got to make defenders scared, man,” he told ESPN.com after that game.
If Hyde’s foot can get back to 100 percent this offseason, the Niners should be able to ride Hyde in 2016.