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How To Approach The 49ers Backfield This Season

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Frank Gore is facing some serious competition this season, but he's still a solid value. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
Frank Gore is facing some serious competition this season, but he's still a solid value. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.

The San Francisco 49ers have one of the best teams in the NFL. Even so, it’s hard to trust any of their players on your fantasy team with the exception of Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis. Michael Crabtree is coming off of a torn achilles that cost him most of last season, his quarterback says he’s back to 100 percent but we won’t really know that for sure until he steps out onto the field. Anquan Boldin is an aging possession receiver who played well in Crabtree’s stead last season; but how much will his numbers fall off with a healthy Crabtree back on the field?

More perplexing than all of that is the 49ers backfield. Frank Gore is 31-years old and has a pair of talented runners waiting in the wings behind him. He seems to still have a hold on the lead back job but last season his play dropped off pretty significantly. He finished the season with a respectable 1,128 yards on the ground but his yards per carry dropped to 4.1, the worst mark of his career.

Behind him you have Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, and Carlos Hyde. Hunter has shown some promise and averaged 4.6 yards per carry in limited opportunities last season. At this point it’s pretty clear that they don’t view him as the bellcow type though. The “pair of talented runners” that I referred to earlier are Lattimore and Hyde. Lattimore is in his second season but for all intents and purposes he’s a rookie. He sat out all of last season recovering from a horrific knee injury, the second that he suffered in college. Prior to the draft he was seen as the heir apparent to Gore, but that all changed the minute the 49ers selected Carlos Hyde with the 57th pick.

Even before they added Hyde into the mix the Niners backfield was a bit of a question mark headed into this season. Gore would in all likelihood lead the 49ers backfield both literally and figuratively, but how many carries would he bleed to Lattimore and Hunter? Add in Hyde and this shapes up as a backfield to avoid. In reality that’s not the case though.

At his current price tag Gore isn’t too much of a risk. I looked at ADP date from MyFantasyLeague and Yahoo, he averages 94.91 and 57.60 respectively. Those obviously have a very large gap but what’s more important is how many running backs go off the board ahead of him. In MFL leagues Gore is the 28th back selected and in Yahoo leagues he’s the 24th, so it’s much more similar than it at first appears. In either case you’re essentially selecting him as your third back. Even at 31, with a crowded backfield, Gore is a solid bet as your RB3. Gore will no doubt lose some carries, but even if he only carries it 14-15 times per game he’ll still come close to 1,000 yards rushing if he maintains the same yards per carry average from last season. And he still scores touchdowns, so 1,000 yards and eight or nine scores is more than enough from your third running back.

Let’s say you’re not comfortable with those numbers or with spending that high of a pick on a third running back with that kind of ceiling, but you still want a piece of San Francisco’s backfield. Now you have to decide, do you want Hunter, who probably won’t ever see more than five or six carries per game? Not likely. How about Lattimore, who hasn’t played a down in the NFL but already carries an injury prone label? Maybe. He’s young and he could bounce back. Your last option is Carlos Hyde, a rookie who many considered to be the top running back in the draft class.

You can be stubborn and make an argument in Lattimore’s favor, but I’m going to go with Hyde here. For me he’s a great pick. Again looking at MFL and Yahoo ADP data, Hyde averages 101.85 and 124.30 respectively. Either way you’re getting him at a great price. MFL has him as the 32nd back off the board and Yahoo has him as the 48th. The gap shows just how much of a difference in value different owners assign to him. Most people should know their league mates and league format well enough to be able to gauge if he’ll go towards the earlier or later end of that spectrum. Either way it’s good value in my book. With an aging lead back, a change of pace guy, and an injury prone redshirt sophomore ahead of him, Hyde is in a better position than it might originally seem to the casual observer.

In any league format where you have the potential to keep him after this season, whether it’s a dynasty or a keeper league, you ought to be targeting him as a guy for the future. But there may be real opportunity for him this season. With his current ADP, it’s well worth taking a shot in case Gore succumbs to age or injury this year.

You have to enter your drafts and the season looking at things from all angles. If you like Gore this year, then he’s reasonably priced for you. If you prefer avoiding the older back or just miss out on him, then go after his backups. Specifically Hyde. The beautiful thing about a crowded backfield is that you don’t know how it’s all going to shake out in the end. Gore will retain his starting gig, but you never know what’s going to happen over the course of a 16-game season.

Lottery tickets that pay off win championships just as often as drafting Peyton Manning does. So much of fantasy football is making smart decisions over the entire course of the draft, not just the early stages. So for me, I’m still targeting Gore. If I get him...great. if I don’t, I’ll be just as happy waiting and taking Hyde in a later round. Even if I get Gore, I’m probably still liable to take Hyde later on. It’s a no-brainer.