By: Matt Llewellyn (@Atax1s)
Final Edit: (@Zachhernan)
It’s been a few months since John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over the reigns of a 2-14 49ers team. In that time, they have gone to great lengths to improve the roster in hopes of being more competitive immediately. Beyond their wizardry in the draft, in which they somehow acquired two of their top three talents in the first round, the tandem has essentially gutted the roster. 53 players, essentially an entire team, are brand new to the organization. This is a huge statement to the remaining incumbent 49ers that any one of them could be next on the chopping block. For two notable 49ers, Arik Armstead and Carlos Hyde, the pressure is on to stay healthy and preform well in 2017.
The Case for Carlos Hyde
When Hyde was drafted coming out of Ohio State, he was expected to come in and sit behind the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Frank Gore, in the hopes that he would eventually succeed him as the bell cow. Hyde had just come off a season in which he was named to the All Big-10 First Team after rushing for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns to add to that. He was a strong, bruising back who didn’t shy away from contact and had a mean streak in him. The 49ers second round selection split time with Gore in his first season and showed flashes of excellence. His second season also started with a bang as he opened the 2015 season with a brilliant 126 yard, two touchdown effort in the Monday Night Football match up against the Minnesota Vikings. His season however, would soon be derailed.
Hyde would fracture his foot in week 5 in a close loss to the New York Giants. He had been humming along before the injury with 470 rushing yards on a healthy 4.1 YPC average. The 49ers were hopeful that he would return, but eventually decided to put him on injured reserve. Last season, Hyde had an even more impressive campaign in which he rushed for 988 yards, 6 touchdowns, on an even more impressive 4.6 YPC. Unfortunately, the injury bug would come back to bite Hyde once again. “El Guapo” would go on to miss two games with a shoulder strain before tearing his MCL against the Rams in week 16.
That’s two major lower body injuries on a running back that thrives on contact. Hyde turns 26 in September and, while he is not old, he is showing the wear and tear of his playing style at a position where the shelf life is one of the most limited in all of football. On top of that, the 49ers drafted Utah product Joe Williams in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Williams was someone that head coach Kyle Shanahan was so enamored with that he said he’d feel sick if the 49ers didn’t draft him. This should be concerning to Hyde, as a new regime is coming in and have already drafted his possible replacement.
Hyde is in the last year of his rookie contract and if he’s unable to stay healthy and produce, the 49ers may end up letting him walk in free agency. Even if Hyde doesn’t command a huge salary, the running back position has been devalued. Replacements for often-injured, 27 year old backs are plentiful, especially given Shanahan’s track record of finding mid-round talent at the position. If Hyde doesn’t have a healthy, breakout year, this will almost certain;y be his last in San Francisco.
The Case for Arik Armstead:
If the expectations on a second-round running back are high, you can exponentially increase upon those for Arik Armstead. The 17th overall pick back in the 2015 NFL Draft, Armstead is a mountain of a man with a ton of potential. Things got off to a rocky start for Armstead in his rookie season. He played in all 16 games, but he didn’t produce like the team was hoping for. He seemed overmatched at times, and it seemed his lackluster combine had bled over into how he played on Sundays. Still, the potential was there and many young defensive linemen often struggle in their adaptations to the NFL in their rookie seasons.
In 2016, the expectation for Armstead had only increased. Even coming off of a difficult first year, optimism remained high. He came into camp and quickly looked like a beast. He was joined by his former fellow Oregon D lineman, DeForest Buckner. Together, the hope was that they would improve upon a line that was one of the worst in the NFL the previous year. The optimism quickly evaporated when the 49ers displayed just how bad of a team they were. Armstead was producing at a slightly better clip than he was during his rookie year, but was soon lost for the season due to a shoulder injury. He played in only eight games and was rated as one of the worst defensive linemen in the NFL against the run, per Pro Football Focus.
Coming into his third season, Armstead now finds himself in a difficult position. In year three, potential needs to turn into production or the dreaded “bust” label could soon start to be thrown around (if it isn’t in some places already). Once thought to be an anchor of the defensive line, Armstead now finds himself having to reinvent how he plays. New defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is installing his 4-3 defense and Armstead is one piece of a now a crowded group. Buckner, coming off a very productive rookie season, will be starting at the end position. The 49ers also brought in Earl Mitchell to play on the interior and he looks to get significant snaps. Not to mention, the team also went out and used their first pick this year on the versatile defender Solomon Thomas, who can play multiple positions on the line. They also drafted D.J. Jones, a defensive tackle out of Ole Miss, as well as Pita Taumoepenu, an edge rusher from Utah, in the sixth round. Throw in the recent signing of veteran pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, and Armstead now finds himself needing to separate from a suddenly-talented and very crowded defensive line.
Hyde and Armstead both will face an uphill battle in 2017. Lynch and Shanahan have shown they are not afraid to massively turn over the roster, in an effort to jump-start their rebuilding process for the 49ers. The new GM and HC tandem are preaching patience, but also know that they can’t be beholden to potential without the realization of that talent. Hyde and Armstead both have the talent and potential to be excellent football players, but injuries and a lack of production threaten their spots on this challenging roster. Both face new, talented competition at their positions and need to stay on the field in order to produce at a level that will ensure they remain a part of the San Francisco 49ers for 2017 and well beyond.
Stay tuned for more articles just like this one from 49ersHive! Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter!