Finding value in San Francisco's crowded backfield
The San Francisco 49ers have really produced some notable fantasy football players throughout the years. In just the last few years, there has been the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, the always true Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and even their defense. It always seems though that no matter how you look at it, the true 49ers workhorse is Frank Gore. But at 31 years of age and with 10 years in the league, the scope and landscape of the 49ers' run game is changing right in front of us.
This is the time and opportunity where you need to dive in and take advantage of the new 49ers' backfield. A new era of fantasy football in San Francisco. Consider these emerging players like a major company about to go public on the stock market. With the right research, you can grab the stock early to compound your investment down the road. Instead of stock though, we are talking fantasy football, specifically the running backs behind Gore on the depth chart.
The 49ers' backfield according to FFToolbox's ADP looks like this: Gore (92.34, RB29), Carlos Hyde (99.05, RB32), Marcus Lattimore (181.64, RB57), Kendall Hunter (undrafted), LaMichael James (undrafted).
Gore's future and even his immediate impact is under the spotlight. The big question here is whether he is on the brink of losing RB1 status and how many touches he will give away to both Hyde and Lattimore. The hard truth is that Gore is not what he once was, even being ranked as the 13th overall fantasy running back in 2013. He is 31 years old with over 2,000-plus carries. The regression appears to be setting in and it doesn't help Gore's fantasy situation with the young talent nipping at his heels. Gore, the obvious starter entering Week 1, is one of the riskier starters, although these risks are pushing his ADP down slowly. Eventually he may fall far enough that he could be viewed as a value. The tank's not quite empty yet.
To his credit, you know what you are going to get with Gore if things stay the same: about 250 carries, 1,000 yards rushing and about a half-dozen touchdowns. He is no longer much of a receiving threat out of the backfield, nor will he burn you for the long TD run. Both Hyde and Lattimore will receive touches sooner rather than later to show what they can do.
Over the last few NFL drafts, the 49ers have obviously made it clear they are looking to replace their current all-time team leader in attempts, rushing yards and touchdowns with their next all-time team leader. Over the last 4 years they have drafted Hyde (2014), Lattimore ('13), James ('12) and Hunter ('11).
Hyde is the key player here fantasy owners need to monitor. There are no indications that Lattimore will be ready as he continues to slowly recover from his knee injuries. Hyde is penciled in as the No. 2 RB with Hunter in a close third. Hyde has the ability to be 'that guy' as the season progresses. Giovani Bernard is a great example of a rookie leaping into an ideal situation as we knew the 'Law Firm' was well established within the Bengals backfield, but as the season progressed, it became clear why Bernard was staying on the field for more snaps.
Keep this in mind though, they [Gore & Hyde] have very similar running styles and out of the group San Fran has put together, Hyde is the more well-rounded running back perhaps excluding pass protection. Whether running between the tackles, being a patient runner and as a decent receiver, Hyde brings a lot to the table. There have already been trade rumors surrounding James and Hunter is believed to have already maxed out his talents. Lattimore will need to rebuild his burst and explosion. To the former South Carolina Gamecocks' credit, it is easy to forget how great he was in college and if he can get back to that point, Lattimore has all the potential in the world.
Whether redraft or dynasty, fantasy owners should seriously consider selecting Hyde. The 49ers' commitment to the run and his excellent skill-set should be an intriguing. A notable rookie running back who is going unnoticed to most but has the path to become a RB1 towards mid-season. This situation though, like any backfield really, is fluid. All it takes is one nagging injury and someone else like Lattimore could get an opportunity and if he's not ready, San Francisco will fall back on Hunter to get the job done. For the right ADP value, Hyde provides a tremendous opportunity to add quality talent to your team with a stock option that can compound in value quickly.