SANTA CLARA — The 2015 season was a disappointment in and of itself. The ground game was not what it was just a few years ago under former head coach, Jim Harbaugh. However, there were flashes of competence here and there trickled throughout the course of the year. It just wasn’t very consistent.
In Week 1 of the year as the 49ers took on the Minnesota Vikings at home for a Monday Night Football game, Carlos Hyde went berserk and looked poised to take the torch that Frank Gore left behind and run with it. Hyde rushed for 168 yards on 26 carries with 2 touchdowns. Niners fans had something to look forward to. It wasn’t but just a week after that the hope was deflated as the 49ers got annihilated in Pittsburgh where Hyde’s production and carries took a significant hit. He would only have one more game that was somewhat respectable for the year against the New York Football Giants as he rushed for 93 yards on 21 carries with a score. His last game would be against the Seahawks where the Niners suffered an embarrassing loss once again to their division rivals.
Shaun Draughn would take over as the starting running back with Mike Davis, Jarryd Hayne, and DuJuan Harris all getting shares in touches as well as the season progressed. Nobody really ever emerged as a bell cow replacement for Hyde.
Hyde has been noted as being fully healthy to start this offseason program after sustaining the injury last year. The 49ers bolstered the offensive line to help allow for whichever running back that is carrying the ball to have the best opportunity of success in 2016.
Below, we will take a look at each running back and what their possible roles could be in the upcoming year.
Hyde will without question be expected to be the bell cow heading in to the 2016 year. He ran the ball in a very similar style offense at Ohio State to Chip Kelly’s offense that he’ll be running this season. So the transition will be seamless once he has the terminology down. Should Hyde stay healthy, he will most likely get the lion’s share of touches.
Hyde’s career stats: 198 carries | 803 yards | 7 Td’s | 4.1 average
Davis was a 4th round selection for the Niners last year, 126th overall and much like Hyde, struggled for the most part. Some of that was on him and some of it was due to an incompetent offensive line. Davis showed, on some occasions, that he could be serviceable but I think with what I observed, he has a very low ceiling. I’ve been wrong before though. It’s of my strong opinion that this years running back draft pick in the later rounds is being brought in to challenge Davis for his roster spot.
Davis’ career stats: 35 carries | 58 yards | 0 TD’s | 1.7 average
Draughn was the next man up once Carlos Hyde was injured. The Niners signed him midway through the season. He did not start the season on the 49ers roster. Draughn was very serviceable and at times really looked lethal. Behind an improved offensive line he could be a nice compliment to Hyde in his second year with the 49ers. Draughn as bounced around all over the league having been with 6 teams in just 5-years. Has he found a permanent home in SF? Time will tell.
Draughn’s career stats: 151 carries | 527 yards | 3 Td’s | 3.5 average
Gaskins is a larger running back that was most likely brought in to be Boobie Dixon’s replacement as that bruising goaline back that can pound it in down in the RedZone. He has not had much opportunity and spent most of his time on the developmental squad. I had the chance to see him up close and personal at the 49ers 2016 draft party and let me tell you, this guy looks like he’s been chiseled out of stone. If he can put it all together, he actually might have a good shot at playing special teams and being that 4th running back on game days. That would be best case scenario for the young back. Worst case scenario is that he spends another year on the practice squad gaining more experience as a pro.
Gaskins career stats: 16 carries | 38 yards | 0 TD’s | 2.4 average
Harris is another running back that the 49ers were forced to bring in off the streets. Harris spent time with Baltimore but never really had the chance to showcase his true value. Once Shaun Draughn went out with injury, the Niners made the move. Harris was inserted immediately and he made an impact for the limited time he had. It will be fun seeing him try to make a case for himself as one of many on the 53-man roster.
Harris’ career stats: 107 carries | 452 yards | 2 TD’s | 4.2 average
The sensational former Aussie rugby star turned NFL project will look to expand on his up and down year next year. The goal in year two now that he knows what to expect and has gone through and entire season will be to be a more integrated part of the offense and quite possibly the sole special teams star at the punt and kick returner positions. I believe that from Jarryd Hayne’s perspective he will be giving it his all to become RB2.
Hayne’s career stats: 17 carries | 52 yards | 0 TD’s | 3.1 average
KELVIN TAYLOR (R)
Taylor is the son of former Jaguars great Fred Taylor. He attended Florida University for his college career which was the same Alma Mater as his father. Fred Taylor racked up 11,695 over the span of his career as a pro. Not many expect his son, Kelvin to be quite the back that his father was. But even so, Taylor will be given every opportunity to shine this offseason and the preseason. Work ethic will determine his spot on the roster should he make the team. The good news is that he is a rookie, if he does not fair well, he will have the chance to grow on the developmental squad (assuming that someone does not swoop in and sign him to their own 53-man roster).
Taylor’s career stats at Florida: 486 | 2,108 yards | 23 TD’s | 4.3 average
Carlos Hyde a.k.a. El Guapo should come in to the season as the uncontested starter. It will be between the rest of the group (Draughn, Harris, Gaskins, Hayne, Davis, and Taylor). It’s fathomable that they will all be used in some capacity due to each ones unique skill set. But only a max of 4 will probably be on the 53-man roster… and possibly even less of them on the gameday roster of 46.
This will be a very heated competition at the running back this year and there is a lot of potential talent there. Competition breeds success and gets the most out of players.