Carlos Hyde and Joe Williams have the complementary skill sets to develop into a great running back tandem for the San Francisco 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ decision to draft running back Joe Williams did not seem like that much of a deal when he was picked into the fourth round. However, it has grown into one of the bigger offseason storylines for San Francisco. Williams’ arrival and the revelations from the MMQB’s Peter King that head coach Kyle Shanahan pounded the table in the draft room for the tailback, have led to many to assume he will eventually take over from Carlos Hyde as the starter.
NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco is one such believer of that school of thought, recently telling the Taylor Price Podcast (per 49ers Webzone) that he expects Williams to unseat Hyde at some point.
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But what has been missed amid the chatter about Williams developing into the starter is that, in Hyde and the fourth-round rookie, the 49ers have a potentially excellent complementary running back tandem on their hands.
Shanahan was able to engineer great success for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as offensive coordinator of the Falcons, and Hyde and Williams have the ability to make the same kind of impact.
Hyde has largely impressed during his three-year 49ers career, though he has never completed a full season due to injuries, and came within 12 yards of 1,000 in 2016 — missing the last game of the campaign. His inability to stay healthy for 16 games is a concern for many, with some seeing him as a one-cut power back whose running style has contributed to his injuries.
There is no doubt that Hyde can play the power back role very well, he is an excellent downhill runner who relishes hitting defenders and excels at picking up yards after contact. Hyde, per Jeff Ratcliffe of Pro Football Focus, made positive yardage after contact on 83.19 percent of his runs in 2016.
In addition, he boasts very good vision to find running lanes and cutback opportunities, and hits holes with decisiveness and burst, a trait that should enable him to adapt to the zone scheme employed by Kyle Shanahan. Hyde is not a home-run hitter but boasts enough speed to be able to rip off long gains, which he did consistently in his near 200-yard performance against the Jets last season.
At his best, this is who Hyde is. Vision to see cutback, burst, agility and enough speed to rip off long gains pic.twitter.com/jk9Fvco8E8
He also helped dispel the myth that he struggles catching the ball out of the backfield, making 27 receptions on 33 targets for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
Though he is a more well-rounded back than people have given him credit for, Hyde could certainly use a backup capable of spelling him consistently, with the likes of Shaun Draughn, DuJuan Harris and Mike Davis having proved largely ineffective in 2016.
San Francisco has also added Tim Hightower, Matt Breida and Karpi Bibbs to the backfield, but it is Williams who has the best skill set to complement that of Hyde.
Two of my favourite plays came against Washington, he just consistently puts defenders on skates and it’s really fun to watch pic.twitter.com/FsgGBOwZOB
He has exceptionally quick feet and can change direction in an instant, showing burst when hitting the hole and ability to gear down to set up his cuts. Williams’ elusiveness is on a different level to that of Hyde and the same can be said of his speed.
His 40 time of 4.41 seconds seems somewhat slow when watching tape of Williams, who has no difficulties taking the ball the distance from anywhere on the field. Too often felled by the first tackle, Williams perhaps lacks the physicality to serve as an every-down back at this point in his career.
But he is a determined runner who will do his best to keep his legs churning when he can and, though Williams did not make an impact as a pass-catcher at Utah, his athletic ability means he is an ideal fit for the role Coleman filled in Atlanta — a back who is capable of eating into the starter’s carries and can offer a change of pace and a big-play threat.
Williams isn’t a tackle-breaker but he will keep his legs moving after contact. Not that the tackling is great here pic.twitter.com/g43RyBIokb
The progress Hyde displayed last season went under the radar as the Niners limped to a 2-14 season and his all-round ability is underrated. In a contract year, Hyde will be desperate to impress and, despite claims to the contrary, he has what it takes to flourish in Shanahan’s system.
Possessing both power and elusiveness, Hyde can be a focal point of the offense as Freeman was for the Falcons in 2016. He will not want the rookie to eat too much into his carries, but with their contrasting skill sets, Hyde and Williams are a duo that can cause defenses any number of problems.
Hyde’s chances of staying healthy and performing to a higher standard will increase should Williams succeed in spelling him and getting him extra rest, as will his hopes of a contract extension. The 49ers could have an extremely potent running back pair on their hands. And it’s in the best interest of both Hyde and the team that they develop into a successful tandem.