Breaking Down The Backfield: San Francisco 49ers: Is Carlos Hyde or Joe Williams The Better Target?

by Ray Kuhn

As we enter the 2017 season expectations are at a minimum for the San Francisco 49ers. They have a new coach in Kyle Shanahan and every role on the team is up for grabs as they search for their new identity.  While San Francisco will be ignored by the NFL observers, we don’t have the same luxury as fantasy players.

Carlos Hyde is currently going off the board in early drafts, putting him as an RB2 in 12 team leagues.  Is he really someone we can trust and rely on, though?

We are still a few weeks away from training camp and exhibition games and reading into beat writer speculation is foolhardy, but the picture being painted isn’t the most optimistic. He hasn’t distinguished himself in his first three years in the NFL, but he was drafted in the second round so there is a pedigree to consider. 

After appearing in just seven games in 2015 due to injury and gaining 470 yards on 110 carries with 3 TD, Hyde made it through 13 games last season. He fell shy of the 1,000 yard mark (988) while averaging 4.6 yards per carry and finding the end zone six times. He also caught a career high 27 passes for 163 yards.  San Francisco’s offense was far from an ideal situation in 2016, and I wouldn’t expect it to be much better in 2017 despite the hiring of Shanahan. However, with a new regime in town, that also means there is nothing tying them to Hyde (even if he is coming off a career marks).

But if not Hyde, then who?

Tim Hightower is your exact definition of a journeyman running back, and last year in 16 games with the Saints he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and caught 22 passes for 200 yards. While it’s very likely he will have a consistent role this season, it won’t be anything that holds much fantasy value.

That brings us to Joe Williams, who so far this spring has gotten a lot of attention from San Francisco’s coaching staff and beat writers. The 49ers traded up to draft Williams in the fourth round of this April’s draft, and at 24 he is the classic boom or bust sleeper option.

Throughout the draft process San Francisco’s running back’s coach Bobby Turner remained in touch with Williams as he was a favorite of Shanahan. As we enter training camp that certainly is a plus, but it doesn’t mean Williams is without question.  He bounced around a few colleges and “retired” in September of last season, but then did bounce back to gain 1,407 yards on 210 carries while scoring 10 TD. While he did average 6.7 yards per carry, Williams has had issues with fumbles and he isn’t much better in the passing game as a receiver.

The new offense that San Francisco will be running relies more on a speed game than power, between the tackles running that Hyde is accustomed to. For that reason there weren’t positive returns about his performance coming out of OTA’s. In mini-camp Hyde did dominate the first-team touches, but may also be by default.

Williams will likely be given every chance to succeed, but Hyde is still the guy (for now) in San Francisco. The upside surrounding Hyde is limited, and at this point he’s not worth price. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Williams end the season as the more valuable option in San Francisco’s backfield and he’s worth a late round sleeper pick, but it’s hard to have much confidence in the situation.

Make sure to check out our early 2017 Rankings:

2017 Sleeper: Why Zach Ertz Is A Must Target Tight End On Draft Day
Draft Day Decision: Prioritizing Tampa Bay's Backfield: Is Doug Martin The Back To Own?

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