By Sam McPherson

Thus far in his National Football League career, San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde has played in 27 games since 2014 while starting 13 over the past two seasons combined. The results have been mixed for the former second-round draft pick out of Ohio State, as Hyde has shown flashes of brilliance combined with a tendency to get injured easily and often.

With 307 carries under his belt over those 27 games, just about a full season’s work for a starting RB, Hyde has rushed for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns. Toss in 36 receptions, and Hyde has demonstrated he can play with the big boys. However, he can’t seem to stay on the field since becoming the team’s full-time start at the beginning of the 2015 season. Hyde played in 14 games back in 2014 as Frank Gore’s backup at the position, but since inheriting the starting role, he’s managed to see the field just 13 times in 22 games, and once again, Hyde will miss a game this weekend with an injury.

Where does that leave the 49ers offense and its sophisticated running game under Head Coach Chip Kelly? Right now, Shaun Draughn and Mike Davis are listed as the only RBs on the depth chart for the San Francisco offense, and those two aren’t even close to being household names, even in the Bay Area. Draughn has played for six teams in his NFL career, carrying the ball a total of 177 times for 582 yards since 2012. As for Kelly, he has rushed 45 times for just 76 yards in two seasons now with the 49ers.

Simple logic and math tells you these two backs aren’t very good, but they are what the S.F. organization has to work with going into the game this weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium. Hyde, for all his inconsistency due to injury, is the best the 49ers have at the position, by far. The team has to be hoping he gets healthy again very soon, especially with the team bye coming up in Week 8.

Hyde’s Best Games

Strangely, the S.F. starting running back has posted just two 100-yard games in his short career: Week 1 in 2015 against the Minnesota Vikings at home (26 carries, 168 yards, two TDs) and Week 3 in 2016 against the Seattle Seahawks on the road (21 carries, 103 yards, two TDs). The first instance was a dominant 20-3 team win over an eventual playoff team, and the second instance was a big loss to a hated division rival.

Everyone thought Hyde was going to be a superstar after that effort last season in the opener. Even then, his longest run of that game was just 18 yards. Against the Seahawks earlier this season, the 49ers were down 37-3 in the fourth quarter before Hyde really got going. Overall, 66 of his 103 yards came in the fourth quarter with the team down by 34 points. The team’s final two drives were against prevent defenses, and that’s when Hyde scored his two TDs as well.

In games where Hyde has posted a 4.0 yards-per-carry mark as the starter, the 49ers are just 1-3, including the above two matchups. Considering that Hyde has started 13 games, it’s odd that San Francisco has won just three of those games. The 49ers aren’t a better team with Draughn or Davis at RB, but they did go 3-6 without Hyde in 2015. With the starting RB out again this weekend, it will be interesting to see how the 49ers fare with lesser RBs in the game plan.

Hyde’s Worst Games

Three times as a starter, Hyde has been held under 3.0 yards per attempt. Both times in 2015 occurred in games at home, while the one time in 2016 happened on the road. The 49ers managed to win just one of those games, a Week 6 win against the Baltimore Ravens. In that game, Hyde carried the ball 21 times for 55 yards and didn’t score. Two weeks prior, Hyde had carried the ball just eight times for 20 yards in a 17-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. This year, his 14-carry, 43-yard effort on the road against the Carolina Panthers didn’t mean much in a 46-27 loss. 

Six other games in Hyde’s starting tenure for the 49ers featured efforts where he averaged between three and four yards per rush. The S.F. record in those games is 1-5 overall. When Hyde is at his best, the 49ers still struggle to win, and when he’s not at his best, the 49ers also struggle to win. This makes Hyde quite the enigma, despite his obvious talent and capability in the role of the starting running back.

What’s Next For Hyde?

In last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, Hyde injured his shoulder although he didn’t come out of the game permanently after the injury. Now, he is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, although he is not expected to play. Everyone will know more on Friday when updated team injury reports are released. But regardless, Hyde is at a turning point in his 49ers career: He is in the third year of his original four-year deal, and Hyde hasn’t done enough to warrant a serious contract extension from the S.F. organization.

When he hopefully returns to the field in Week 9 against the New Orleans Saints, Hyde will have nine games left this season and the full 2017 season to prove he is worthy of a big contract from the 49ers (or any other team, for that matter). His flashes of brilliance on the field haven’t helped a talent-deprived 49ers team in the win column, so unless he can suddenly play at a high level for a sustained period of time while helping San Francisco win games, we could see a similar situation with Hyde that we saw with Colin Kaepernick recently: a one-time starter riding the pine for a losing 49ers squad.

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