This is the 4th in a series of round-by-round “Best Buys.” Each one will profile a player that is going in a different round of drafts this summer that I think could provide excellent value at their current ADP, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. Today’s profile is from the 4th Round, and I’ll be spotlighting RB Carlos Hyde from the San Francisco 49ers.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers (Current ADP: 4.04 Standard, 4.10 PPR)
In 2016, Carlos Hyde put up the best numbers of his career – 217 carries, 988 yards, and 6 TDs on the ground. He added 3 receiving TDs on 27 receptions as well and finished the season as fantasy’s 14th best RB, even though his team had the 2nd worst record in the NFL. It was largely perceived at the time that the 49ers were a 12 pack of Life Savers brand soda, and Hyde was a delicious Dr. Pepper that got somehow mixed into the cooler. In short, Hyde was the only good thing about the 49ers’ offense last season.
That was where we left it at the New Year.
Fast forward. January 30th: John Lynch is hired as the new GM of the 49ers. February 6th: The Niners name Falcons’ offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, architect of a zone running scheme, head coach. April 1st: San Francisco signs Tim Hightower, who has played in a zone scheme, to a one-year deal. April 28th: The team drafts blazing fast Utah RB Joe Williams with a 4th-Round pick.
June 2nd: Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated puts out an article, writing: “First-year 49ers GM John Lynch has maintained the same outlook on RB Carlos Hyde for the entirety of this off-season: He’s a talented back, but we have to see how he meshes with Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The early verdict? Hyde might not fit—at all.”
June 29th: Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat writes this in an article: “Hyde averaged only 2.5 yards per carry on runs designed to go outside the tackles in 2016. Sometimes, he ran those plays perfectly. But when he didn’t find a hole, he hesitated in the backfield and got tackled behind the line of scrimmage instead of cutting upfield and powering forward to gain two or three yards. He lost yards 29 percent of the time and gained less than two yards 53 percent of the time on these outside runs… The Niners need a patient running back who can pick up three yards outside the tackles even when he doesn’t find a hole... Hyde is not that running back.”
On July 25th, Cohn is interviewed by Jeff Matson on the Rotoviz Radio podcast, where he clarifies his position:
“[Hyde] is a quick hitter up the middle, and he can bounce it to the outside. What he’s doing now is the antithesis of that… His problem is, he’s somewhat of a greedy running back… a lot of times he’ll cut back across the backfield and go from right all the way back to the left… That’s how you lose four of five yards. Even if you’re getting a five yard run here and there, [Hyde] can cancel it out by not sticking his foot in the ground and getting upfield and getting one or two yards… That’s what the best outside zone runners do… And with Carlos Hyde, there could be a lot of negative plays in this particular scheme.”
One day prior to Cohn’s interview, NFL.com writer and former RotoWorld editor Gregg Rosenthal mentions on the Around the NFL podcast that his sources that have led him to believe Hyde could even be cut prior to the season.
July 31st: Hightower works with the starters for a day in training camp.
August 1st: The fantasy sky is falling.
Hightower was briefly with Shanahan’s father, Mike Shanahan, in Washington. The elder Shanahan won two Super Bowls running a zone run blocking scheme very similar to his son’s, so Hightower has at least some familiarity with it. Hightower is old for a runner, but he spent 3 years away from the game before emerging with a desperate injury-plagued New Orleans in 2015 and resurrecting his career with 2 straight strong seasons since.
On August 31, 2012 Tim Hightower was a preseason cut by Washington, and he was out of the NFL for 3 entire seasons; then, out of nowhere, he was signed by New Orleans in 2015 and was heavily featured in the final 4 regular season games, helping many to fantasy championships.
As far as Williams goes, he’s a bullet. His straight line speed (22 runs of at least 15 yards in his senior season with the Utes, according to PFF) leads many to an easy Tevin Coleman comp (Coleman put up RB2 numbers a year ago under Shanahan’s coordination in Atlanta); and one of his greatest detractors is Williams’ unwillingness to create at the line if nothing’s there, instead settling for whatever his blocking gets him – all of which sounds acceptable in Cohn’s description of the zone run scheme. Williams had a weird career path, leading him down some windy broken bricks terminating with Utah in 2015, where he backed up Devontae Booker. Then, after a brief “retirement” in 2016, the Utah coaching staff pleaded for his return, and Williams piled up a robust 1,407 and 10 TDs in just 9 games. Despite being only 210 lbs., Williams has also proven to be pretty hard-wearing so far, averaging 23.3 carries per game after returning to school.
So, why in the blue hades do I think you should draft Carlos Dadgum Hyde?
Let’s start here. Hightower is 31, while RBs historically taper down starting at age 27. He wasn’t notably successful when he was with Washington in 2011 (321 yards and a TD in 5 games), nor was he particularly impressive in Arizona before that. After his uncommon 3 year hiatus, he played better than ever in 2015; but a year ago, he was already showing signs of regression. Also, the Saints offense is explosive and bright, amplifying the stats of any steady contributor that gets involved there. Simply put, Hightower probably looks better on a stat sheet, because he’s been on the Bayou. In San Francisco, if Hightower were to get all the carries – all of them – it is possible he would not duplicate what he did in the box scores in New Orleans.
As for Williams, he does seem like a good fit for Shanny, but he doesn’t block, and he isn’t a receiver. Not being able to create for himself sounds fine for anyone who were to take Cohn at his word and believe that a zone runner should simply fall forward and take what is given; but the cellar-dwelling 49ers’ offensive line is most likely going to be subpar (27th in the league, according to PFF’s pre-season rankings of NFL offensive lines). If Williams doesn’t create, and the line doesn’t create, the 49ers will never move the ball on the ground. System or no, that isn’t going to work.
But there is one RB on the 49ers’ roster who can create on his own: Carlos Hyde.
For a 230 lb. man, Hyde has a little bit of wiggle to his game. As Cohn described in is newspaper clippings, he can change direction, seek out a little daylight, and find little creases that don’t even appear to be there. Also, notably, as I personally watch Hyde’s film, I see plenty of occasions where he has no choice but to settle for whatever his blockers have feebly pushed around on the plate in front of him, and he’s willing to power forward just fine. The conviction that he is incapable of settling for what’s in front of him is probably overblown; it may not be his preference usually, but it is at least in his toolbox. Then, of course, Hyde’s a truck – one of the few players in the league that will just straight up wrestle Aaron Donald for an extra 3 or 4 yards. He’s a bulldozing bruiser with a chance to move any pile anywhere from a little to a lot. According to the analytics site Number Fire, 67% of Hyde’s 2016 production came after contact.
According to Justin Simon of Rotoviz, “Hyde played a total of 13 games and posted an RB1 week five times and an RB2 week four times.”
According to NFL insiders Adam Kaplan and Ian Rapoport, there really isn’t a competition at all between Hyde and the rest of the Niners’ backs. The former Buckeye supposedly arrived at camp in the best shape of his life and has generated “tons of optimism in training camp as someone they view as a bell-cow for their offense,” according to Rappaport.
According to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, Hyde has already grasped the offense, and he is going to be the starter. Not only so, but Maiocco continues, claiming Williams is actually struggling thus far, citing among his chief pieces of evidence that Williams is not picking up the offense (let this irony sink in); and he has been having trouble with ball security – one of his most oft-mentioned and principal criticisms from his college tape. Add that together with shaky pass-protection, and it may be a while before Williams is given any trust at all.
Reporter Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Hyde is “ready like never before for the upcoming season.” He writes that Hyde has been blocking extraordinarily well with bone-crushing hits in practice, and he has rolled over unsuspecting youngsters on the Niners’ defense on runs, unaware of his incredible power.
Hyde is going to start, and he’s going to be the best player on the 49ers’ offense, just like we thought when we left off last January. He’s going to get a good workload on a team that could be bad – but in a situation where it’s also sort of easy to visualize them rapidly improving. He’s just barely into his career prime, and he’s a proven workhorse. While he may not be wearing red and gold a year from now, there is nothing here to be overly tentative about in respects to Hyde’s 2017 outlook.
The point we can take from all this is: Coaches and General Managers tell fibs and use the media to motivate players and move chess pieces. Organizations make roster moves for reasons that don’t amount to conspiracy and tittle-tattle. Beat reporters take guesses – even if they don’t report them as facts – and their speculation gets carried away, put in a spin cycle, dried on a wire, and folded up nicely into something it isn’t. There is so much from the preseason that we, as fantasy players, should just try to ignore – or at the very least, muse over with a skeptic’s apprehension. Now, here we are, staring at likely an RB2, if not an RB1, sinking silently to the silt of the 4th Round. And why? Because of rumors and assumptions.
The fantasy world’s loss. Your gain.