While the rest of the NFL has been moving toward a more finesse, pass-oriented style, the 49ers haven’t budged from their old-school, might-is-right approach to the game.
The team reinforced that strategy on the second day of the draft Friday as they selected two interior offensive linemen, a throw-back inside linebacker and a 230-pound running back from Ohio State, Carlos Hyde.
“Big wins,” general manager Trent Baalke said minutes after the third round was complete. “Big wins a lot of football games in the league. And big in the middle wins a lot of football games.”
The 49ers began the second day of the draft with Hyde, a powerful, squat runner who gained 3,198 yards and 37 touchdowns in 41 games for the Buckeyes.
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The selection of a big-bodied ball carrier was a look ahead to next year, when the 49ers may be without Frank Gore, who is entering the final year of his contract and turns 31 next week. Hyde said he looked up to Gore, felt he had a similar style to Gore – “Violent,” he said – but that he planned to push Gore for a starting spot.
“What I bring is I play with a lot of passion,” Hyde said. “I feel like guys can feed off of that. They see how hard I run the ball and how much determination I run with.”
Hyde had a particularly ferocious battle in college against the 49ers’ second pick of the third round, Wisconsin’s Chris Borland, a small but gritty linebacker who was one of the top tacklers in the nation in recent years.
“He’s just a baller,” Baalke said of Borland, who’s 5-foot-11, 248 pounds. “How can you not love him as a football player? Not tall enough. Not fast enough. Arms are too short. You hear all of that. We just love the makeup. We love the player.”
Like Gore, backup running back Kendall Hunter also is entering the last year of his rookie contract and, barring an extension, will be a free agent next year. Another runner, LaMichael James, has not been happy with his role in the offense and has not yet arrived for the offseason conditioning program. Baalke has insisted the 49ers have no plans to trade James, their top return-man option for 2014.
Last year, the team used a fourth-round pick on tailback Marcus Lattimore, who was recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in 2012. Baalke said Hyde’s selection was not a comment on Lattimore’s return from that injury.
“Absolutely not,” Baalke said. “Once again, it’s competition. And, yeah, it’s crowded (at running back). But at the same time, it’s going to make everyone step up and play to the best of their ability.”
When the day began, the 49ers’ two biggest needs were cornerback and receiver.
They addressed one position by trading a conditional draft pick next year to the Buffalo Bills for wideout Stevie Johnson. Meanwhile, Baalke said he didn’t think the cornerback class was as impressive as it’s been in recent years, and he noted that outside of the first round, there hasn’t been a run at the position. That is, a number of options remain, including Clemson’s Bashaud Breeland and Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, both of whom have the physique to play press coverage.
Meanwhile, “Trader” Trent Baalke lived up to his draft-day reputation.
Including the deal for Johnson, the 49ers made five trades Friday – moving up and down in this year’s draft and adding a fourth-round pick next year to replace the one they gave up to Buffalo.
The 49ers head into the final four rounds today with seven picks. None of the seven players drafted in rounds four through seven last year had much of an impact in their rookie seasons, and two – quarterback B.J. Daniels and cornerback Marcus Cooper – were cut and ended up on different teams.
Asked why he accumulated so many third-day draft picks, Baalke said that’s how the team’s draft board fell. He said several talented players remain.
“There’s a lot of guys left on that board that can compete for various roles on our football team,” he said.