If the 49ers decide to allow running back Carlos Hyde to leave in free agency, who will they turn to in 2018 to carry the football?
San Francisco certainly has a pair of in-house options with Matt Breida and Joe Williams, both rookies in 2017. Breida, undrafted out of Georgia Southern, isn’t a big back at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but he played well, especially as the season progressed. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 105 attempts (better than Hyde’s 3.9), scored two touchdowns and also had 21 catches for 180 yards and a score. Williams missed the season with an injury, but the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has better speed and is stronger than Breida and was a big favorite of head coach Kyle Shanahan coming out of Utah last year.
Also, the 49ers could draft a running back – especially in the middle rounds – and get good value.
And, as Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee noted, 49ers general manager John Lynch and his scouts will get a good luck at potential running backs in this spring’s draft while at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., this week.
Among the running backs working out and playing this week are Rashaad Penny of San Diego State, Akrum Wadley of Iowa and Jaylen Samuels of North Carolina State.
Penny, notes Barrows, especially seems a good fit for the 49ers because of Shanahan’s love of “one-cut-and-go runners.”
“(Penny) ran for 2,248 yards last season, averaged 7.8 yards a carry and scored 23 touchdowns,” wrote Barrows. “Penny failed to reach 100 yards in just two games and went over 200 yards in six contests. At 220 pounds, he’d bring some heft.”
Though Barrows noted Penny needs a lot of work on his pass-blocking skills, Penny is extremely versatile.
This past season, Penny had 19 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns and was a fabulous returner at San Diego State. He averaged 30.2 yards per kick return over four seasons, while scoring seven TDs. He also returned two punts as a senior, including one for a TD.
Penny is expected to go between the second and fourth rounds of the draft, so the Niners could focus on defense at the top of the draft first.