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Can Carlos Hyde be the Zac Stacy of 2014?
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[Editor’s note: We don’t intentionally try to take every side of every issue, but smart people often disagree on things. That happens a good amount with our writers. Earlier today Justin Winn argued against Carlos Hyde. Mike Kerrane takes the opposing view in this piece. Oddly, these pieces were submitted within a few hours of each other and neither writer knew what the other was working on.]

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”- Socrates

I didn’t open this post with a Socrates quote just to be a pretentious d-bag. 1 I did it to help crystallize a point, which is: as much as we think we know going into a season, there will always be things that we completely overlook.  Every year one or two players come out of nowhere and perform like top players at their positions. They are often called “MVPs” because of how much they produce relative to their cost. Past examples have included Peyton Hillis, Michael Vick, Cam Newton, Alfred Morris, and, to a lesser extent, Zac Stacy. Trying to identify this player or players in July is pretty futile, because by definition they will have almost no perceived value before the season. But hey: training camp hasn’t started yet, and the World Cup, the NBA season, and Teddy Bear Picnic Day are all over. So we might as well talk about Carlos Hyde.

The End Of An Era

The case for Hyde begins with a case against Frank Gore, who presents the largest obstacle in Hyde’s path to fantasy relevance. Though seemingly entrenched as the 49ers starter, Gore may very well lose that distinction sooner than people realize.  He is 31 years old, eclipsed 2,100 career carries last season, and just submitted the lowest yards per carry average (ypc) of his career. Casual fans probably have a vague sense that Gore faded down the stretch last year, an impression we can verify using the Game Splits App:

 

Gore Game Splits

That is the portrait of a rapidly declining player. The Sim Score App wholeheartedly agrees, projecting a dismal outlook for Gore in 2014:

 

Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 5.1 5.4 6.1
Median 8.3 8.8 9.3
High 9.8 10.3 11.4

In terms of PPG, that median projection would have placed him at PPR RB44 last year, just below Jacquizz Rogers and Bobby Rainey. Even at the high end of that range, he wouldn’t have cracked the top 30.

If nothing else, I hope this post convinces you to avoid Frank Gore like the plague. At his current ADP 2 he is virtually guaranteed to disappoint, profiling as either an ineffective starter or a starter who loses his job at some point in the season.  I believe the odds of the latter are significant, because Jim Harbaugh has been to three NFC championship games in three seasons and would consider anything short of a Super Bowl berth to be an abject failure.  I doubt he is inclined to tolerate any starter who is not getting the job done. This is generally true of coaches in the league, but seems especially true for the coach who wants cake now.

So Who Could Take Over For Gore as the Starter?

Should it come to that, let’s run through the potential candidates:

LaMichael James: If he’s even on the roster come opening day, James will once again be relegated to return duties. He received 12 carries last year and was almost traded in the offseason. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

Kendall Hunter: Widely considered to be a change of pace back, Hunter has shown well in his three NFL campaigns but hasn’t surpassed 100 carries in a season since 2011. That year also happened to be his worst performance from a yards per carry standpoint. He figures to be in the picture this season no matter what, but at 5′ 7’’ and under 200 pounds he doesn’t seem like a true threat to ever assume the starter’s role.

Marcus Lattimore: This one is tough because I am rooting for the guy, and he is basically one giant question mark. But until we see him take an NFL snap, all conversation about Lattimore will revolve around his injury, and injury which is quite literally unprecedented. For those that have been living under a rock, he tore the ACL, MCL, and PCL in his right knee and dislocated said knee, one year after tearing the ACL in his left knee. Scouring the internet, I couldn’t find another instance of a player even suffering a knee injury that devastating, much less recovering successfully from it. The closest and most oft-cited comparison is Willis McGahee, who tore those same three ligaments in his left knee, but did not suffer a dislocation. McGahee is rightfully considered a success story, but it should be noted that he was drafted in 2003 and didn’t average over 4.0 ypc in season until 2007, and didn’t average over 4.1 ypc in season until 2009. Lattimore may well prove his doubters wrong in time, but he doesn’t seem poised to take over as an NFL starter this season.

*Update: NFL.com is reporting that Lattimore will open the season on the Non-Football Injury List, which is functionally equivalent to the PUP and means that when training camp opens, he will be watching from an exercise bike while Hyde takes snaps.

And Then There’s Carlos Hyde…

Hyde is healthy, big, and was good enough to both be taken in the second round of the NFL draft and be considered a Tier 2 3 rookie RB in the RotoViz composite ranks.  When Shawn Siegele compared Hyde and Jeremy Hill before the draft, he concluded that Hyde benefited greatly from excellent blocking in college. Lucky for Hyde, then, that he’ll be playing behind one of the very best run blocking offensive lines in the league.4

Here’s a thought experiment:  Imagine that every running back in the league was taken off of their roster. Then the NFL held a fantasy-style draft where the teams re-picked them. What team do you hope drafts your dynasty RBs?

By any measure, the 49ers would have to be towards the top of that list. They are perennially among the lead leaders in rushing attempts,5 have three first round picks on their offensive line, and they have a stifling defense to match their smash mouth, ball-control philosophy.  A running back doesn’t need to be a transcendent talent to capitalize on that kind of opportunity. Consider Gore himself, who was a hardly a world-beater as a prospect; to the contrary, he was a third round pick with uninspiring measurables. And yet he’s had a long and prosperous fantasy career.

Let’s see how he and Hyde stack up:

 Weight40 Time Speed ScoreVertical JumpBroad JumpExplosion Score
Frank Gore2104.5597.934109143
Carlos Hyde2304.6697.534.5114148.5

*Note: We can say with almost 100% certainty that Hyde’s combine 40 time is inaccurate. He injured his hamstring during the run, something that surely slowed him down. It also meant he was unable to perform the agility drills at the combine or at his pro day, so calculating his agility score is impossible, and he did not rerun the 40 at his pro day. However, Rotoworld reported that he ran in the mid-4.55s during private workouts.

Gore parlayed his situation (volume + scheme) and just enough talent into considerable success. There’s no reason to think Hyde can’t do the same. He profiles as exactly the type of dependable chunk runner who can help the 49ers move the chains and control the clock. In college he was durable, productive, and never fumbled more than once in any of his four seasons. And he has reportedly looked like a steal so far, drawing praise from offensive coordinator Greg Roman. 6

So What Does It All Mean?

This probably sounds weird, but I’m not necessarily imploring you to draft Hyde, although with a current ADP in the 12th round I wouldn’t hate it. But if he does hit as a fantasy MVP type, I think his trajectory will be roughly similar to Zac Stacy’s from last year. Which is to say: even if he does take over as the starter this year, it probably won’t happen until midway through the season.  That means he’ll probably be dropped before the bye weeks, or you may be able to sneak him into a deal as a throw-in if necessary. Either way you should be able to secure him cheaply before he truly ascends.

The main point is that you should be paying close attention the 49ers RB situation throughout the season. Part of the reason that Stacy slipped through the cracks was that fantasy owners didn’t want to wade into the muddy waters of the Rams backfield. Don’t make that same mistake this year. Somebody could be in line to assume a very valuable role in San Francisco, and I believe that somebody is Hyde.

Keep an eye on “El Guapo.” You may be handsomely rewarded.

  1. Although that certainly was part of the reason  (back)
  2. RB27, early 6th round  (back)
  3. Tier 1 was Bishop Sankey by himself  (back)
  4. Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers run blocking unit 3rd in 2013 and 1st in 2012  (back)
  5. Under Harbaugh they’ve been 3rd (2011), 7th (2012) and 3rd (2013  (back)
  6. Sure, it’s only July. But praise can’t be bad, right?  (back)

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