Why Carlos Hyde is on the list
Opportunity + talent = leap.
Hyde toted the rock just 83 times as a rookie -- missing the final two games of the season due to injury -- for 333 yards, 4.0 yards per carry and four touchdowns. Now that Gore's 255 carries are out the door, those opportunities will increase for the second-year back.
The 6-foot, 235-pound back displayed power and quick one-cut ability as a rookie. 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 Marshawn Lynch (31.4).
In his 83 carries, Hyde showed flashes of brilliance when given a lane. He displayed occasions of shiftiness on the second level and a plant-and-go ability that allows him to make defenders miss at close range -- see his juke of Bobby Wagner in the video below. For a bigger back, Hyde was able to get to the edge with some frequency, which should improve with more outside-zone runs and a lighter frame.
While he didn't do much in terms of the passing game -- 12 caches for 68 yards -- his skills at blocking as a rookie were well beyond most first-year players. That added component will allow the 49ers to keep him on the field in any situation.
The biggest obstacle to Hyde's upside is how new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst will utilize his backfield rotation.
Reggie Bush was brought in the offseason to provide a shifty change of pace and could siphon carries from Hyde early in the season. Bush played well at times last season, but health is always a risk with the former Heisman Trophy winner. Sooner or later, he'll be on the shelf again. Bush also isn't as big a pass-catching threat, despite what he's made out to be. The return of Kendall Hunter is Hyde's biggest threat on third downs and passing situations, but Hunter is coming off an ACL tear. The Niners also have fourth-round rookie Mike Davis.
The next question is whether Hyde can handle the workload. It's not easy being an every-down runner, especially in an NFC West division loaded with dominant front lines. A revamped 49ers offensive line will likely be worse than last season, so Hyde will need his entire tackle-breaking muster. His tendency to run up-right and provide a big target for tacklers could be troubling if he's not given lanes.
Finally, we need to see improvement in Hyde's vision, patience and understanding of the offense. Too often his tape on NFL Game Rewind showed a tendency to pick the wrong hole or not see a wide-open cutting lane. He must display improved patience and let holes develop in his second year. Balancing decisiveness and patience is tough for rookies; we expect Hyde to improve in those areas in Year 2.
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. His combination of size and speed is the best bet for the 49ers to get consistent production from their backfield.
As a runner, Hyde is a suped-up version of Joique Bell, who spilt carries with Bush last season (frankly, if healthy, I like Hunter as a better option to steal carries than Bush). The 49ers will also run more frequently and effectively than Bush's Lions did last year, so his per-snap production should exceed what Bell put up.
After it all sorts itself out on the field, Hyde should be in line for a stat line of around 200 carries, 900 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015.