Fantasy Football: Carlos Hyde Is Still the Back to Own in San Francisco
"I’m telling you right now: If we don’t get him, I’ll be sick. I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night.” -Kyle Shanahan
That was the quote heard ‘round the world of NFL Draft Twitter thanks to access granted by the San Francisco 49ers to Peter King of Sports Illustrated. The draft process of first time general manager John Lynch and first time head coach Kyle Shanahan was chronicled in great detail on King’s MMQB website. Reading further, we learned that Lynch had removed Williams from his draft board completely over a number of concerns, including his passion for the game during a month long absence away from football.
While getting to see behind the scenes makes for a great read, it may not matter if it was the prospect of a sleepless night -- or even the banging of a fist on a table -- that got San Francisco to trade up in the fourth round to select Williams. He’s an interesting -- although flawed -- player who has been successful in doing what Shanahan has been executing so well with other running backs over the years.
But we can't just forget about incumbent starter Carlos Hyde; even though he's in the final year of his rookie deal after being taken in the second round by the previous regime. Some of the offseason stories centered on Hyde have been harsh. One claiming the front office is ready to give up on him. Another questioning Hyde’s ability to perform in a zone-blocking scheme. However, there have also been articles -- ones that received less attention -- in which Shanahan spoke well of Hyde.
As we filter through all of these various offseason narratives to decide which San Francisco running back we feel most comfortable investing in, it’s worth remembering that Hyde performed pretty well for a very bad team a year ago. If you believe the Shanahan magic will work for an unproven rookie, why can't it work for Hyde, as well?
Back in 2013, Williams was kicked out of Connecticut just nine games into his freshman season after using a stolen credit card to purchase a backpack. From there, he played the 2014 season at a junior college in Brooklyn. In 2015, Williams moved across the country to play two seasons in the Pac-12 with Utah.
In his first season there, Williams saw a heavy workload late in the year as the result of a season-ending knee injury to Devontae Booker. After running for more than 300 yards in his first two starts, Williams ran for a pair of touchdowns against BYU to win the Las Vegas Bowl.
Early into 2016 campaign, Williams stepped away from the game after two extremely poor performances to address the ongoing mental health issues he had been experiencing for quite some time. After missing four games, teammates and coaches welcomed Williams back to a backfield depleted by injury.
In his first game back, Williams rolled up 179 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries at Oregon State. The following week -- on the road against UCLA -- Williams erupted for 332 yards and 4 touchdowns on 29 carries. His collegiate career concluded with 222 yards and a touchdowns on 26 carries as Utah won the Foster Farms Bowl over Indiana. In a total of nine games played, Williams exceeded 100 rushing yards on six occasions.
Tale of the Tape
Williams displayed a number of impressive attributes at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He has plenty of straight line speed, blazing a 4.41 in the 40-yard dash. That helped him earn a 90th-percentile speed score on PlayerProfiler. In terms of being an explosive athlete, Williams was mediocre in the vertical jump, but he posted a broad jump that nearly reached the 90th-percentile on MockDraftable.
Agility was also a mixed bag. Williams was well above average in the 20-yard shuttle, but he was poor in the three-cone drill. However, Williams did improve his three-cone time significantly when he ran the drill again at Utah's pro day.
Working against Williams are his age and his hands of stone. He’ll be 24 years old when the season starts. By comparison, fellow rookie Christian McCaffrey will be 21. In terms of catching the ball, Williams is the polar opposite of McCaffrey. Williams only caught 20 passes on 30 career targets, and he was credited with 5 drops, per Pro Football Focus. Ball security -- lost seven fumbles -- was also a major issue.
Hyde and Seek
In their lone season under Chip Kelly, the 49ers ranked fourth in rushing yards and fifth in rushing attempts while only winning two games. With a roster still lacking in talent, it’s probably safe to say Shanahan is not going to run the ball with such vigor.
In nine seasons as a coordinator, Shanahan has conducted a top-five offense on four occasions; six times placing inside the top 10. For more accurate comparisons given the state of the Niners, Shanahan’s 2014 Cleveland Browns finished 7-9 with Brian Hoyer starting the majority of the games. Notably, Hoyer is currently the starting quarterback in San Francisco. That team placed 6th in rushing attempts and 17th in rushing yards gained.
Shanahan’s first two seasons with the Washington Redskins were his worst rushing teams as they placed near the bottom in both rushing categories for 2010 and 2011.
Getting back to Hyde, he graded out well by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players. A four-yard completion on 3rd-and-3 is considerably different than a four-yard completion on 3rd-and-6, and NEP helps account for that by tracking the expected points players add to their team's total over the course of a season.
Among backs with at least 100 carries in 2016, Hyde checked in 22nd in Rushing NEP per play with a clip of -0.01, which was slightly above the league average. Among that same subset, Hyde's Success Rate -- the percentage of plays which positively impacted NEP -- ranked 19th (40.5%).
In addition to that, according to PlayerProfiler, Hyde ranked seventh in evaded tackles and was also well inside the top 10 of numerous yards-after-contact metrics -- all while playing behind one of the league's worst offensive lines, per Football Outsiders.
The real concerns for Hyde are his expiring contract and ever growing medical history. As a rookie in 2014, he missed two games with an ankle sprain. The following year, a Week 7 stress fracture in Hyde’s foot sent him to injured reserve for the rest of 2015. Last year, Hyde sat out two games with a shoulder strain.
So to review, we have an older rookie who can’t catch passes, isn’t ensured much volume and is slated to start the year as a backup. That’s not a great mix. The lack of pass catching is a really big deal because Hyde isn’t much of a pass catcher, either. In fact, Hyde saw a fewer number of targets than Shaun Draughn, who was used at the team’s receiving back last year. It's very possible that fullback Kyle Juszczyk -- who has caught 78 passes over the last two years -- leads the San Francisco backfield in receptions.
That leaves Williams with very little standalone value as a late-round selection in redraft or MFL10 leagues. For now, his only clear path to a meaningful number of carries is a Hyde injury. Even then, Williams is an unproven two-down back who would likely face a committee situation with Juszczyk or a more traditional running back.
For now, Williams is much better suited in the latter portion of the second round in dynasty rookie drafts. That gives owners a year to see if Hyde leaves in free agency. Using the Average Draft Position Evolution feature of the MFL10 Live App site, you can see how Hyde is backsliding, dropping seven positions over the last month. The hype surrounding Williams is having a clear impact, creating a decent buying opportunity on Hyde, who may still wind up being the guy to own in San Fran despite all of the offseason hoopla surrounding Williams.