49ers take RB Carlos Hyde with 2nd round draft pick

This is my Saturday news story on the 49ers’ Day 2 draft picks.

SANTA CLARA — Analysts thought the 49ers’ biggest needs were on the outside, at cornerback and at wide receiver. Everyone thought that.

Everyone except the 49ers.

San Francisco spent its first five draft picks building up the middle of its team. The 49ers drafted a safety, a running back, a center, an inside linebacker and a guard.

In the first round, the 49ers drafted a safety — Jimmie Ward. He will cover slot receivers in the middle of the field next season.

In the second, the 49ers’ drafted a running back — Carlos Hyde.

He’s not a finesse, outside runner like the 49ers’ current backup running backs Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James. Hyde is a 230-pound battering ram.

“I would describe my game as ‘violent,’ ” Hyde told Bay Area reporters on a conference call Friday evening.

It’s strange to think of the running back position as a need for the 49ers. They consistently have one of the best running games in the NFL.

But Frank Gore turns 31 on May 14.

He had one of the worst seasons of his career last yar, averaging just 4.1 yards per carry.

Gore’s 2013 season got worse as it went on.

He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry over his final six games, and just 1.08 yards per carry against the Seahawks in the NFC championship game. The 49ers can’t rely on him to carry the load like he used to.

If Gore continues to decline, Hyde could become the starter as soon as next season.

“I’m definitely going to compete to get that starting job and keep that running game alive that Frank Gore brought to the 49ers,” said Hyde.

In the third round, the 49ers drafted a center, an inside linebacker and offensive tackle.

The center was Marcus Martin from USC. The 49ers took him with the 70th pick after trading down with the Jacksonville Jaguars from pick No. 61.

“My versatility allows me to play anywhere inside on the offensive line, whether it’s at left guard, right guard or center,” Martin said on a conference call.

With the 77th pick, the 49ers drafted inside linebacker Chris Borland from Wisconsin. The 49ers already have two of the best inside linebackers in the NFL — Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

Borland could back up those two for most of his career.

But Bowman will miss the first half of the season as he rehabs his surgically repaired ACL.

The middle of the defense is so important to the 49ers that they spent a third-round pick just to replace Bowman for half of a season.

For good measure, the 49ers drafted a guard with the final pick in the third round — Brandon Thomas from Clemson. He won’t even play for the 49ers next season.

He tore his right ACL in April. The 49ers still preferred him to the receivers and cornerbacks that were available in the third round.

Before day two of the draft started, the 49ers traded for veteran receiver Stevie Johnson. Johnson turns 28 on July 22 and has produced three 1,000-yard receiving seasons during his NFL career.

But he is not a speed receiver. He is a possession receiver who excels in the slot, meaning the middle of the field, just like the 49ers’ two current two starting wideouts — Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.

The 49ers still have not added a speedster who can run down the sideline and beat a defense deep.

This should not surprise you.

Trent Baalke revealed his draft philosophy way back in February at the NFL combine. “You want to take away the middle of the field,” he told reporters at a press conference.

“The best way to do it is having strength up the middle. If you can do that in the game, you stand a very good chance of winning week in and week out. So we place a big emphasis on that.”

When the third round ended Friday night, Baalke held a press conference in the 49ers’ defensive meeting room.

He was asked if he had planned to fortify the middle of the 49ers in this draft.

“Big in the middle wins a lot of football games,” Baalke said. “We felt we did that.”

    1. I wouldn’t get too excited about his a return man possibility. He never returned a kick for a TD in college; until 2013 he only returned kick offs and not punts and in 2013 his kick return total was 8, 5 kick offs and 3 punts. His punt return average was 5.3.

      1. He’s a talented returner that hits the hole without hesitation, not to mention a natural slot receiver…..

        1. What makes him a talented returner? His kick return average was pedestrian and his punt return average was laughable. So much so that the team basically stopped having him do it; his kick returns per year were 20,18,8. Does it sound like the team saw him as a talented returner?

          1. Here’s a confidence booster when asked by Maiocco what his return experience is he answers”“I have a little experience doing it.” Truly the words of a talented returner.

  1. good catch on Baalke comments back in February.

    Also, while speed is nice to have to stretch a field, the Niner’s offensive philosophy is generally dependent on scheme to dictate to defenses and less on specific matchups. What I mean is that it is less inclined to send a guy deep to beat the coverage than to use play action or some passing concept where one receiver draws coverage which helps a deep receiver get deep. The Niners coaches are scheme heavy control freaks in that way (also in the way that they use a 2-3 play call system vs. more pre and post snap offensive adjustments).

  2. Thanks Grant; really enjoyed this fast out of the blocks report and perspective. The Chronicle could desperately use this right now.

  3. Both Hyde and Lattimore have excelled at running from the spread gun in college, something that Gore has struggled with.

      1. I´m affraid that you are right on this. Why draft a RB with Lattimore getting ready to roll?? Something says me that it is highly questionable if Lattimore is ever going to play a single snap, which is sad.

        1. Jorgen,

          I don’t think the selection of Hyde has anything to do with Lattimore. It has to do with adding more strength to an already strong area: the running game.

          The Rams, Cards and the Hawks are beefing up their core units to counter the Niners’ strengths…and the Niners keep on upping the ante, increasing their strength. To that end the Niners added a top line Center and a top line Guard and a top RB. All three of them are first round talent…gotten on the 2-3r rounds.

  4. hi guys got a question about Borland. They say he cant run in coverage but excels at run stopping. So if they use him to replace Bowman, what are they gonna do on 3rd downs? Patrick Willis is our stud, so will they keep in on 3rd down intsead? The commentors in the draft said Borland would get eaten alive in coverage, is this true?

  5. Yep, Willis’ year to take over and kick it up a notch. I don’t know about eaten alive, but he lacks the length to cover tight ends….(T-Rex arms)

  6. SANTA CLARA — Analysts thought the 49ers’ biggest needs were on the outside, at cornerback and at wide receiver. Everyone thought that.

    Everyone except the 49ers.
    ……. And me! I mentioned a couple at them positions but slot guys, not outside. Jason Verrett and Brandon Cooks. We got Jimmie Ward and Ellington. Obviously it woulda cost us our whole draft to get them but not back then. I’m comfortable with the corners an wide outs, even before the draft. I was smh on every article that said that was our needs. Glad to see Rodgers outta here. Anxiously awaiting the return of the S. Carolina corner we drafted!

  7. What’s intriguing about Hyde (and Lattimore) is their pass catching. They seem so natural at it.

    The 49ers put an emphasis on running backs blocking, but I wonder if more passes to backs are in the cards? Anyone familiar with Kaeps Nevada days know how well he passed to backs?

  8. Brodie the FB they drafted in the 7th rd was also an outstanding receiver. So who knows maybe we are in for a return to the Roger Craig\Tom Rathman days

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