SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The 2017 NFL draft is set to begin on April 27 in Philadelphia. The San Francisco 49ers own 10 picks in this year's draft, including No. 2 overall.
With a new regime in coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in place, it's hard to know what direction the Niners will go with their picks. But the 49ers have plenty of needs as they go about reconstructing their roster.
Here's a look at what the 49ers need at running back:
Potential fits: LSU RB Leonard Fournette, Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey, Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara, Toledo RB Kareem Hunt, Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine, Clemson RB Wayne Gallman, Texas RB D'Onta Foreman, San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey, Utah RB Joe Williams.
What’s needed: On the surface, this appears to be one of the few spots on the roster where the Niners have a solid starter and depth that would allow them to spend their resources elsewhere. But there's a lot going on here that actually makes this one of the most interesting positions on the roster. Hyde is the starter, but he will be a free agent at the end of the season, and though Lynch and Shanahan have had good things to say about how he might fit, they've also left room to consider potential additional options or even a long-term replacement. The Niners brought Hightower in to provide some guidance, knowledge of Shanahan's offense and a reliable backup who can do a little of everything. He also signed just a one-year deal, and Harris will be free after this season as well. Juszczyk is expected to play a prominent role from his fullback/offensive weapon position after the Niners spent big bucks to land him.
Still, this is a strong draft class for running backs, and Shanahan has enjoyed success in the past by working in touches for multiple backs. Given the injury history of Hyde and Hightower, more depth is needed, and it would serve the Niners well to find someone who can bring some pass-catching ability to the mix as well.
It's also worth noting that Shanahan's outsize zone running game often has enjoyed success with little-known backs in his other stops, and even all the way back to what his father Mike was able to do as head coach of the Denver Broncos. So a premium investment probably isn't needed, but some sort of draft capital could very well be spent on this position.
Verdict: There have been a lot of rumblings that the Niners and Fournette could be a match at No. 2 and the Niners brought Fournette in for a visit this week. That could mean legitimate interest or it could be a potential smoke screen in an effort to entice a trade.
Still, drafting a running back at No. 2 doesn't seem to fit how Shanahan (and his father) have gone about business at this position in the past. Perhaps it's an effort to draw interest in a trade or maybe the Niners really do believe Fournette is the type of generational talent they simply can't pass up. The former seems more likely than the latter, but with a new regime nothing can be definitively ruled out. If Fournette really is viewed as a possible superstar, the Niners have to consider it given the lack of star power on the roster.
Of course, there are many options in this draft beyond Fournette who could bolster the depth chart. McCaffrey and Cook almost certainly will go between the Niners' first- and second-round picks, but if either were to slip to the second round, it would be hard for the 49ers to not at least give them a look. Kamara might be the most underrated back in this draft and would be more of a big, physical type who could share the load with Hyde.
Because there's so much talent at this position, it's hard to get a feel for which way the Niners might go, but it's a safe bet they'll be adding another back at some point in the draft. If not, they will look to add someone in undrafted free agency.