Changing The Pace - The Dual-Threat Running Backs The 49ers Should Look At

February 6, 2017

Three seasons into his 49ers career, Carlos Hyde is yet to complete a full season and it has long since been clear that he is need of a capable number two to share the load.


Hyde enjoyed his best year as a 49er, coming within 12 yards of his first 1,000-yard season before a low hit in the Week 16 win over the Rams saw him suffer an MCL injury and miss the finale against the Seahawks.


The former Ohio State Buckeye scored nine total touchdowns and is comfortably the best offensive player the 49ers have at their disposal.


But, with his physical, downhill running style, there are substantial concerns over his durability, and the Niners do not have a backup capable of scaring defenses when Hyde is off the field.


Shaun Draughn has been serviceable as a pass-catcher and DuJuan Harris has flashed some explosiveness. However, what the 49ers is need in the backfield is another big-play threat who can make an impact on the ground and as a receiver.


And there are two such players in the draft who the 49ers should have their eye on in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel.


McCaffrey is a name even the most casual of football fans will likely be aware of by this point. In his college career his name was consistently in the Heisman Trophy conversation, and for good reason.


With 5128 yards and 31 touchdowns from scrimmage at Stanford, McCaffrey tormented college defenses at will.


As a runner the most underrated weapon McCaffrey has in his armory is his patience. He is more than willing to sit behind his blockers and wait for the hole to develop.


And when the hole does open up, he hits it with startling burst. He shows that capability on this play against USC. McCaffrey slows down after receiving the hand-off but, upon spotting the hole, quickly cuts back into it and picks up first-down yardage, shaking off a tackle to turn the run into a big gain.





What stands out to most with McCaffrey, though, is his elite short-area vision and quickness. He excels at finding the cutback lanes and has the change-of-direction ability to put his foot in the ground and explode upfield, as he does here against UCLA.




McCaffrey’s agility and lightning quick feet allow him to string cuts together and make multiple defenders miss, with Cal finding that out the hard way here as jukes past a series of players to find the endzone.




One criticism you could make of McCaffrey is that he does not possess blazing speed.


Yet, as he demonstrated in the Big Game with Cal, he has more than enough to take it the distance and be a home-run hitter.


Here McCaffrey takes out two defenders with one cut and races away for the score.




An extremely versatile player, McCaffrey has been used in the backfield, in the slot and split out wide as a pass-catcher.

And the athletic traits and vision McCaffrey possesses translate excellently to the receiving aspect of his game. He can pick up yards after the catch with ease as a result of his foot speed, putting defenders on skates in the Cal game to move the sticks in improbable fashion.




That same quickness and ability to put his foot in the ground and turn upfield helps McCaffrey to add some complexity to his routes when split outside.


On this play, McCaffrey completely fools the cornerback with a double-move and is wide open, but the quarterback is unfortunately unable to connect with him on a deep pass.




McCaffrey is undaunted by the challenge of pass protection and actually holds up well in that area. He also displays surprising power to break tackles when running in-between the tackles.




But, while McCaffrey is the better all-round player, Samuel is the superior receiver.


Samuel enjoyed the best season of his Ohio State career in 2016, racking up 1636 yards from scrimmage - with 865 of those coming as a receiver - and 15 touchdowns.


Possessing a markedly similar skill set to McCaffrey, the main difference with Samuel is that he is faster and has the speed to get in behind defenses as a receiver.


However, much like McCaffrey, he relies on his speed of foot to create separation. Samuel is consistently able to use his quick feet to sell defenders outside before breaking quickly back to inside to engineer space.


He gets open in such a manner on this play in the game with Bowling Green and, as with McCaffrey, has more than enough speed to take it the distance.




Samuel is more of a straight-line athlete, but he still boasts the quick-twitch ability to change direction in the blink of an eye, with Samuel therefore able to quickly spot and surge through cutback lanes and make consecutive defenders miss.


This catch-and-run against Michigan controversially resulted in a first down but only because of Samuel’s determination and elusiveness, which enabled him to work back across the field and get close to the marker.




That same athleticism was on display in the Fiesta Bowl matchup with Clemson. On this run, Samuel makes one defender miss in the backfield and, after breaking loose from an attempted tackle, spots and sprints into a cutback lane to surge upfield for a huge gain.




But a bigger selling point than Samuel’s foot quickness is his straight-line speed, which he has enough of to turn potential negative plays into a positive ones.


Samuel should be tackled for a loss on this play versus Oklahoma, but he is able to outrun the defender and get to the edge, almost picking up a first down.




And when Samuel gets to the edge with room to run upfield, it is a significant problem for defenses, with Oklahoma becoming victims of his long speed earlier in that same game.




As a pass-catcher, Samuel could serve to make some improvements, he will drop passes that hit him in the hands, as he does here against Michigan - leading to an interception - and will allow throws to hit him in the chest.




That issue is not apparent when watching McCaffrey on tape and, when comparing the two, it is the Stanford back who appears the more polished prospect.


McCaffrey’s standing in the class reflects that. Even though both can play in the slot and out wide as well as in the backfield, the 49ers are more likely to be in a position to add Samuel to their roster.


Indeed, taking McCaffrey at No. 2 would be a reach, particularly considering the plethora of other needs the Niners have, and it would in all likelihood take a trade back into the first round for San Francisco to acquire his services.


Samuel by contrast, figures to still be available when the 49ers are picking in round two and has the big-play capability to significantly improve their offense.


Still it will all depend on how the board falls come the end of the April and, if the Niners recognize the need to take the strain off Hyde and build a backfield tandem with some added versatility, then they should take a long, hard look at both of these exciting playmakers.



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