On Thursday night, the NFL started it’s first week of the preseason in earnest with six games on the schedule. The first two weeks of preseason football usually tell us very little about any options who will pay off for fantasy owners when the real games start after Labor Day, but last night there was one standout who could have potential to pay off as a sleeper–49ers running back Carlos Hyde.
In the past few seasons, rookie running backs have shown the ability to leap right into NFL offenses and contribute in meaningful ways for their teams and fantasy owners. Next week, we’ll run down all the rookie hopefuls, but let’s take a quick look at Hyde after his eye-opening performance against the Ravens.
Hyde only took five carries in his first preseason game but showed good power and speed picking up 39 yards. The trick with preseason football is that the numbers mean very little since he wasn’t given a full workload against the competition he’ll face when the real games start. Instead, fantasy owners and advisors have more subjective means of analyzing performance including the dreaded “eye-test” which can lead to different conclusions from different analysts.
Instead of trying to decode the noise, what fantasy owners should focus on is one word: opportunity. Hyde finds himself in a position to succeed and could be ready to step up.
As of now, Hyde looks lined up to be the primary backup to Frank Gore who has seemingly been on the edge of decline the last few seasons but continues to contribute heading into the season at 31 years old. At the very least, San Francisco will try to limit his carries by spreading the carries around.
To help share the workload, San Francisco drafted Hyde along with former South Carolina rusher Marcus Lattimore. The issue with Lattimore is that he’s still on the PUP list and probably won’t be healthy until well into the season, leaving the early season work to Hyde as Gore’s primary backup after Kendall Hunter was placed on IR.
If Hyde is able to run like he did last night, he will contribute on a borderline-flex level even if Frank Gore is healthy. If Gore goes down with an injury, Hyde could step in as a true feature-back in an offensive attack that is very ground-heavy.
Hyde has huge upside because of the opportunity in front of him, and he looked ready to take on the challenge last night. Keep watching him this preseason to see how he fares, but as of now he’s one of the top options off the board once the starters are all off the board. I’d slot him in the high 30’s as a RB4 to target in 10-team leagues.