Draft Aftermath: The 49ers’ Running Backs have been put on Notice

Niners Live presents our version of the draft aftermath: The 49ers’ running backs have been put on notice.


The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2017 draft with five running backs on the roster. At the finale of the draft the 49ers added two more. The stable is overflowing, the level of competition has increased, and not everyone is going to make the cut. Niners live breaks down which incumbent runners have been put on notice to produce if they want to fit into the future plans of the franchise.

The 49ers drafted Utah running back Joe Williams in the fourth round and traded a fourth-round selection to the Denver Broncos for Kapri Bibbs, and a fifth round pick. These two are similar in size: Williams, 5’11 205 lbs., Bibbs, 5’11 203 lbs., but Williams is faster. Williams clocked a 4.41 40 yard dash at the combine.

Both are one cut runners, which is a trait head coach Kyle Shanahan values highly in his runners. The zone blocking running scheme Shanahan uses is designed for runners to find running lanes and hit them with authority before they close. One cut runners are ideal for this running system.

It is also interesting that Williams and Bibbs, undrafted in 2014, fit the mold of the low profile running back that churns out productive numbers in a Shanahan run offense. Kyle’s father, Mike Shanahan, mastered this art as the head coach of the Denver Broncos. Joining forces with Kyle is Robert Turner Jr. the running back guru coach that served the role with the Broncos under Mike. The coaching staff has a clear vision of what they want from their runners and these two fit into that vision.

Niners live identifies and explains why the following players have been put on notice after the draft day acquisitions.

DuJuan Harris:

Harris signed a one-year contract this 2017 offseason. He will enter the 2017 training camp not only fighting for a role on the offense, but now, he’ll also need to fight for a roster spot. Harris, is not an every down back and will be used as a change of pace/scat back option with some ball security concerns. Bibbs can fill this role right away, and Williams has the speed to excel in this role if given the opportunity.

Mike Davis:

Davis is a talented runner who has the skillset to excel in Shanahan’s offense. However, he has had injury and fumbles issues in his short two-year career. Davis must take his game to the next level if he wants to make the 2017 roster. Williams and Bibbs can fill his backup and special team roles seamlessly.

Carlos Hyde:

Hyde, the presumed starter for 2017, is on the hot seat because he is in a contract year. This is a prove it year to the new regime for Hyde. He must prove he can stay healthy for 16 games and be productive in the new offense. Williams could very well be Shanahan’s handpicked replacement for Hyde in 2018. Williams has primary runner qualities. More importantly, he will be a cheaper option which allows the 49ers to use the money that would have been used to re-sign Hyde on players at other positions to strengthen the roster as a whole.

In closing:

At the conclusion of the draft, the 49ers have nine running backs on the roster. The team also signed an undrafted free agent, Matt Breida, runner. Most NFL teams carry three to four runners on the roster. Newly signed Tim Hightower should be a lock to make the roster because of his familiarity in the offense. Williams should also be a lock in his rookie year. The team also traded for Bibbs, so obviously they wanted him ala favorite to make the team. If the 49ers head into the 2017 season with four running backs and one fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, the clear odd men out are Davis, Harris, and Hyde in 2018. The running back training camp race will one of the most competitive on the roster to say the lease.

Note: Expect running backs coach Robert Turner Jr. and Kyle Shanahan to put this group under a detailed microscope with high expectations included, and may the best back’s win….

Recent 49er news and quotes: General Manager John Lynch recently addressed some of the negative baggage that has somewhat followed Williams in his recent college career. Here’s what Lynch had to say about Williams via Matt Maiocco.

“The talent was undeniable, but when you hear ‘Quit the team,’ it was like ‘No, not interested,’” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “I talked to his head coach, Kyle Whittingham, and Kyle said, ‘Let’s be very clear, he did not quit the team,’” Lynch said. “He physically and mentally got tired and broke down and he asked for advice on what they should do. He stepped away.”

“I came in and I got on the phone with Joe,” Lynch said. “I think it’s a wonderful story and it turned in from, ‘I have no interest,’ because my perception was anyone who quits a team I don’t want. And then I learned about the kid and I got a great deal of respect for how far he’s come and you mix that with the talent and it became someone we actually moved up to go secure.”

As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.  

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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Jimi Payne Staff Writer at Niners live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.