If Carlos Hydes goes elsewhere in free agency, the 49ers would be left with the following running backs: Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols.
That group has a grand total of 112 NFL carries, 105 of them from Breida. Which is to say, without Hyde there’s not a lot of experience in the 49ers’ backfield.
The team can address that issue in free agency — the Browns’ Isaiah Crowell makes a lot of sense — but it also is poised to take advantage of another deep group of running backs in the draft:
A look at some of the options who will be on display at the upcoming scouting combine, which begins next week.
Saquon Barkey, Penn State. Big, powerful and supremely athletic, some believe Barkley is the best running back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson in 2007. He’d be a nice fit in any NFL offense, including Kyle Shanahan’s, which craves explosive runners who can get to full speed in an instant. The problem for San Francisco: Is there any scenario in which Barkley lasts beyond the first five picks?
Derrius Guice, LSU. If Hyde leaves via free agency, the team might need a bigger-bodied tailback to anchor the position group. At 215 pounds, Guice fits that description and, like Hyde, is a hard runner good at gaining ground after contact. But he lacks Barkley’s explosion and may end up in a gap when it comes to the 49ers and their draft slot: He’s not someone they would take with their first pick but probably won’t be around for their second.
Sony Michel, Georgia. He appears to fit Shanahan’s parameters perfectly: He’s a big-bodied (220 pounds), decisive runner who is strong enough to get through the first layer of defense and fast enough to outrun the second. If there’s a downside to Michel, it’s that he’s had nearly 600 carries in the last four years and isn’t exactly a well-versed pass catcher. He had nine receptions in 2017.
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State. Penny ran for 2,248 yards last season, averaged 7.8 yards an attempt and scored 23 touchdowns. Eight touchdowns came on runs of 50 yards or longer and he had two kickoff returns and one punt return for a touchdown. Despite that resume, some still question the tailback’s explosion and long speed, which will make his combine performance interesting to watch.
Ronald Jones, USC. He’s a good inside-outside runner who gained 1,550 yards last year behind a suspect offensive line. At 200 pounds, however, would he be anything more than a rotational back in the 49ers’ system? And if he is, would the team use a high-round pick to take him?
Others of interest: Royce Freeman, Oregon; Kerryon Johnson, Auburn; Akrum Wadley, Iowa