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Carlos Hyde - The Road to an RB1 Overall Season

Once upon a time, in a fantasy football land far, far away, running backs were the most sought after possession on fantasy championship rosters. Running backs ruled the football landscape, carrying offenses on their backs, and getting dubbed studs and workhorses in the process. From Emmitt Smith to Barry Sanders, from Marshall Faulk to LaDainian Tomlinson, running backs had a stranglehold on the first round of fantasy drafts for years. In fact, some were so dominant that they forced league formats to change in order to accommodate for their brilliance on the field.

And then something happened. The curse of 370 gave way to RBBC (running back by committee). The three-down back gave way to specialization. The league clamped down on physical defensive backs and the passing game soared to new heights. Ultimately, the days of the workhorse running back have come and gone and with that the volatility of the top running backs in the league seems like an ever-revolving carousel.

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A Deeper Dive into Carlos Hyde

So, what is a fantasy owner to do now that running backs can no longer be relied on in the early rounds? I'll leave the strategy talk to our other talented RotoBaller analysts who have throughout the pre-season reminded us that workhorse backs are now a rare breed, pushed us toward an early round QB especially if it's that guy in Green Bay, and told us to start considering those "diva" wide receivers to anchor your team. Strategy aside, and to be clear, I'm a big believer that multiple strategies can work, what is vital to fantasy football success is finding value outside of the first few rounds. In the "Road to" series, I've already explained why Eli Manning will take his best swing at becoming QB1. Now, we'll key in on the running backs, specifically, Carlos Hyde of the San Francisco 49ers.

During the past three seasons, the top fantasy running back has averaged 282 fantasy points. That's our baseline. The question becomes, how can Carlos Hyde get there? While there isn't much in Hyde's NFL history that indicates a potential RB1. Hyde holds a pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry average and 7 touchdowns in his first two seasons, there are some promising underlying numbers that shine a positive light on Hyde. Those numbers combined with his new offensive guru of a coach lead me to believe that Hyde could be in for a monster season.

Let's start with Hyde's positives. The guy is an absolute specimen of an athlete and is the type of back that once he gets into the secondary, nobody wants to try to tackle him. That physicality and running style led Hyde to 2.5 yards after contact in 2015, ranking second in the NFL. While Hyde's full season numbers in 2015 don't look remarkable, people forget that he was hampered by a foot injury for much of the season and tried to play through it.

When healthy, which wasn't often in 2015, Hyde's rushing totals resembled that of a stud running back. His best performance was on display last season in Week 1 on Monday Night Football, where he converted his 26 carries into 168 yards and 2 touchdowns. Flashes like this scream high ceiling and if Hyde stays healthy, there will be more of these games to come and fantasy owners will be able to cash in on his potential at his current 4.03 ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator.

While health is a must for Hyde to fulfill this potential, the other contributing factor is going to be the coaching change in San Francisco this season. Let's start with the basics. While in Philadelphia from 2013-2015 Chip Kelly's offense ranked 2nd, 5th, and 12th in total yardage which was driven by a fast paced attack focussed on the run. While many think that Kelly's offense is a pass first aerial attack, the truth is that it is the running game that has always made the Chip Kelly offensive engine go.

Kelly's offense led the league in rushing in 2013 and was the only team to average more than 5 yards per carry in that season. While the NFL has certainly moved away from the workhorse back, Kelly hasn't shied away from using his studs. He ran LeSean McCoy over 300 times in his first two seasons as the Philadelphia head coach. Much of the run games success can be attributed to Kelly's spread offensive formations which force more defensive backs to be on the field. These spread formations have forced defenses to play five or more defensive backs 59 percent of the time. Carlos Hyde saw this many defensive backs only 12 percent of the time last season.

Whoever Kelly chooses at QB (Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert) will be key to making defenses honor the passing game, but let's be honest, Kelly has been making this offense work with sub-par QB play in the form of Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Bradford, for the past three years. If Kelly and his QB can force defensive backs to be on the field consistently, Hyde is only going to improve on that 2.5 yards after contact that was second best in the NFL in 2015.

Sure there are a lot of ifs here, but that's part of the game when projecting a player's ceiling. The upside of Hyde is hard to ignore and given good health and Chip Kelly's trust, RB1 is an attainable ceiling. I think Hyde is in line for 300+ carries which should be good to put him in the 1500 yard club this season. If this offense can get Hyde into the end zone 12-14 times and he is able to find a role in the passing game, Carlos Hyde will be challenging for RB1 all season.

 

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