Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Carlos Hyde has been through a lot. Hyde was a second-round draft pick made by Jim Harbaugh in what turned into Harbaugh’s lame duck year. Hyde’s rookie year featured rumors, fights and the slow deterioration of a team. A part of that deterioration was running back Frank Gore, who fled to Indianapolis in Hyde’s first offseason. Hyde replaced Gore under new head coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula stayed one season, followed by Chip Kelly for one year, and now Kyle Shanahan was hired as his fourth coach in as many years. On top of the coaching carousel, Hyde has missed 12 games in the past two seasons and has only 20 starts.
Do Not Sleep on Carlos Hyde
A new head coach, the drafting of Joe Williams in the fourth round and Hyde being an unrestricted free agent does not bode well for his long-term future in San Francisco. Still, Hyde should get a chance to earn a job in San Francisco or somewhere else in 2017. He is going to get the brunt of the carries for the 49ers, at least to start the season. With how his play looked in the 2016 season Hyde should be able to win the job for the rest of the year and has the chance to excel in a new offense in 2017.
The first thing that has to be done when looking at Carlos Hyde’s past is understanding the offense he was playing in. His first offensive coordinator as a starter is currently a tight ends coach for the Broncos. The other, Curtis Modkins, was just a name under the play calling of Chip Kelly. The Ringer presented an article that lays out why Chip Kelly’s offense was able to be figured out so quickly by defensive coordinators. Essentially, Kelly was not very creative in his run scheme. He knew that in the NFL the quarterback was not going to be a running threat. Still, he kept calling read options that presented the quarterback with no reads or options, it was just a slow developing hand off. Kelly thought that if he could move fast before the snap that defenses would not catch on, but plays became very predictable. Add in that the 49ers had one of the weakest offensive line units in the NFL, and all players had their eyes on Hyde, and a few had already beaten their lineman and were making their way toward him by the time he touched the ball.
In the photo above, eight players have eyes on Hyde, one of his offensive linemen is on the ground and another two are losing as a double team by the time Hyde finally possesses the ball.
This led to 113 of his 217 carries going for three yards or less. Of those 113, 89 could be chalked up to the line collapsing in front of him, a slow developing hand off, or a blitz being called to where the ball was going. Of the other 24, three were touchdown runs of three yards or less, and 21 could be blamed on Hyde’s execution. In the 89 carries like the play below, he put up 92 yards.
Hyde did make something out of these fronts too. With nowhere to breath, on 36 of his 89 carries he created 62 extra yards from where he should have been wrapped up. The play below is a one-yard run, but very easily could have been a loss of four.
Of the 21 poor runs that were his fault, 13 were because he tried to kick runs outside, rather than take what was given. Four were situations where he just picked the wrong hole, and four times he should have kicked it outside, as the hole he thought he had got sealed. Adding in those carries, and the three touchdowns, 52% of his carries last season went for a total of 98 yards. This means Hyde had 104 carries that resulted in 890 yards, including 26 carries for over ten yards and seven carries over 20 yards.
Kyle Shanahan was asked what he was looking for in a running back. He responded by saying:
There’s an art to hitting the right gap and running full speed and going to where the guy and the defense is out of position. I always joke with the backs, I can see it every time when I have a remote in my hand and it’s very slow and I can be, ‘Oh, you should have gone there.’ No one plays running back with a remote in their hand. They just run and it comes natural.
The natural ability to find holes can be seen in Hydes game almost immediately. Take this play for example:
The original hole is to Hyde’s left. The Jets defensive tackle Leonard Williams knows this and can push the lineman to that spot. Hyde sells that he is going to that hole, and cuts back right to a hole he created for himself. This resulted in a 47-yard run.
Below, Hyde sets the linebacker up and makes him think he is coming up the middle just long enough to get picked up by Zane Beadles (68). Then, Hyde quickly hits the hole to the outside for 24 yards.
Below is likely his best run of the season. The left guard gets blown up immediately. Hyde stays patient and creates a hole for himself behind the line of scrimmage. In the open field he shakes the best safety in the NFL. He picked up 34 yards.
Do not sleep on Hyde
If Shanahan is looking for vision, quick cuts, finishing runs and the ability to create extra yards in space, he is looking for Carlos Hyde. Many are quick to write off Hyde and his future in San Francisco, but it is not inconceivable that he winds up being the major beneficiary of an improvement in game plan. With the eventual growth of an offensive line Hyde could be the back that steals Shanahan’s heart and runs at Devonta Freeman level rates in the very near future.