SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The free-agent market is scheduled to open March 9 and teams may begin negotiations with those poised to hit the market beginning March 7. We'll count down to that with a position-by-position look at what the San Francisco 49ers have in place, who is set to hit the market, what the team needs and who might fit the bill.
Position: Running back
What’s needed: There really isn't much of a debate as to who the Niners' best skill position player is at this point. Hyde was the focal point of the offense in 2016 and probably will be again next season. In addition, it wouldn't surprise if the 49ers looked to sign him to a long-term deal this offseason. Beyond Hyde, there simply isn't much to choose from, at least in terms of proven commodities. Given Hyde's penchant for injuries (he's missed 14 games in three seasons) and new coach Kyle Shanahan's effective use of multiple backs in Atlanta, it's clear the 49ers could use a helping hand for Hyde. In Atlanta, Shanahan mixed Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman with great success. With Hyde in place, the Niners don't need to invest a lot of money or major draft capital in another back, but they do need to find someone who can complement him and offer the ability to carry the load if and when Hyde misses time.
In 2016, Niners running backs not named Hyde combined for 390 rushing yards on 132 carries, a paltry 2.95 yards per attempt. The production in the passing game was a bit better, as backup running backs mustered 40 receptions for 403 yards. And to be fair, that group did a solid job of finding its way into the end zone, with eight touchdowns from scrimmage. Draughn was responsible for much of that production, proving effective as a receiver and finishing with six scores on 103 touches.
Although Hyde showed improvement as a receiver, he's still at his best in the run game. Shanahan likes to throw to his running backs, as evidenced by the 93 catches for 946 receiving yards Falcons backs combined for in 2016. Which means the Niners would be well served to find another back who has the ability to get the job done as a receiver and as a runner. Signing free-agent running backs isn't normally the easiest way to fill needs at this position, so the 49ers might be more likely to target someone in the draft. But there are some intriguing options who might fit in Shanahan's scheme. For example, Washington's Chris Thompson, who played for Shanahan with the Redskins, came into his own last season as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield and could be an option, depending on what type of tender he gets as a restricted free agent.
Shanahan's offense has also utilized fullbacks, which could put the Niners in the market for one of those as well. Former Falcon Patrick DiMarco could be a sensible option there.