If Frank Gore signs elsewhere, who will replace him as the 49ers’ mid-sized running back?

Trent Baalke seems to be searching for a specific type of running back to replace Frank Gore if he signs with another team.

Baalke just recently signed Rugby League star Jarryd Hayne, and, according to Jason Cole, Baalke is interested in Ryan Mathews and Mark Ingram.

What do Hayne, Mathews and Ingram have in common? Each weighs about 220 pounds, and each runs roughly a 4.5 40-yard dash. They are fast, medium-sized running backs.

Here’s a list of the fast, medium-sized running backs that will be available in free agency and the upcoming draft.

Free agents:
1. DeMarco Murray: 6’0”, 217 lbs, 4.37.
2. Ryan Mathews: 6’0”, 220 lbs, 4.37.
3. Mark Ingram: 5’9”, 215 lbs, 4.53.
4. Roy Helu: 5’11”, 219 lbs, 4.40.
5. Darren McFadden: 6’1”, 218 lbs, 4.33.
6. Knowshon Moreno: 5’11”, 218 lbs, 4.50.

Best value: Roy Helu.
Helu is a relatively clean running back for his age, meaning he hasn’t taken many hits in his four-season career. He’s strong enough to run between the tackles and fast enough to run outside the tackles, he’s a good receiver and he’s cheap.

Draft prospects:
1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: 6’1”, 215 lbs, 4.52.
2. Todd Gurley, Georgia: 6’1”, 222 lbs.
3. Jay Ajayi, Boise State: 6’0”, 221 lbs, 4.57.
4. David Johnson, Northern Iowa: 6’1”, 224 lbs, 4.50.
5. Javorius Allen, USC: 6’0”, 221 lbs, 4.53.
6. Michael Dyer, Louisville: 5’9″, 218 lbs, 4.58.

Best value: Jay Ajayi.
Like Gore, Ajayi can do everything – run, catch and block. But Ajayi is bigger and faster than Gore. Ajayi would be a great pick for the Niners in the second or third round.

This article has 72 Comments

  1. Two things:
    1) Not sure why people think that simply because a player is the same size as another player, those two players are alike.
    2) We won’t take a RB that early even if Gore bolts–too many other needs and we just took Hyde with a 2nd last year.

  2. My gut tells me that they sign someone like Helu and, if they draft a RB, they’ll do it for the PS. It would be nice to draft one of the top running backs, but if they can find a FA backup for Hyde, they’ll use that pick on another position depending on who else they sign in free agency.

    1. I agree George. On you tube, in the 2011 season review, Helu resembles Gore.
      I guess we know Baalke’s staying with his running philosophy, freeing up cap money by releasing Johnson

  3. Grant-

    Why do you find it necessary to still list their college 40 times? Is Fran Gore’s 40 time a consideration on whether to keep him or not?

    1. I don’t know. I feel the best back in the NFL do not run 4.3 – 4.4, 40’s. I could be wrong but I do not think so.

  4. Is gettin’ a fresh body at the RB spot such a dire need
    at this time ?? …

    I mean… we have ‘ole Kendell Hunter waitin’ to explode
    outta the wings …

    oh … u-hhhh … nevermind

  5. I believe they will sign Helu and not draft a RB unless Hunter ca’nt come back. If thats the case they will draft a cop RB late in the draft.

  6. Jay Ajayi is one of my day two draft crushes. No-nonsense runner. Knows the exact moment to cut back. Decisive. Powerful. Quick.

  7. Sac Bee – 49ers shopping Michael Wilhoite. Asking for a 5th-6th rounder.

    Does this mean Bowman’s rehab is coming along well?

    1. Why do they trade quality depth for 6th or 7th rounders? As seen last year, Wilhoite filled in seamlessly, played strong all year, excellent on ST and an inexpensive contract.

      Why trade for a 6th/7th pick that is a complete unknown (who will probably get cut at the end of training camp, another team snatches him up before you can stash him on the PS, argh).

      1. I don’t know. I think Wilhoite’s worth more too.

        Could be a roster math issue. Maybe they like the way Moody is developing… or maybe Skov.

        Could be Willis+Bowman are looking really healthy. With Borland as primary backup, maybe Wilhoite’s requesting to be shopped to a team he can start on.

        1. Agree with all your potential scenarios but I still don’t like trading for such a late round pick (4th or 5th – fine, 6th barely ok, 7th no way). I’d prefer they do something like trading player for player (at least this way, you have some idea of how that player performs in the NFL versus college).

          1. The new rookie cap has changed the way teams manage the overall salary cap, because year 1-4 players come some cheaply.

            Teams are now getting rid of solid vets for rookies who aren’t yet as good (or may never be). I’m not happy about it either. I’m all for a soft cap that allows veterans to stick around.

            The issues was discussed by Paraag Marathe and others at last year’s MIT Sports Analytics conference.

            In order to manage the overall cap, teams must keep larger numbers of year 1-4 players on the roster. Some say up to 25 year 1-4 players.

            This is creating a feast-or-famine pay structure. Rosters are increasingly made up of highly sought after veterans getting showered with money, and rookies hoping to get through their super-cheap 4-year contracts without blowing an ACL.

            This leaves solid veteran backup players in the lurch.

            As far as Wilhoite goes all I can do is speculate. He may have asked to be shopped because he wants to be a starter, and the 49ers are doing him a favor. I think they did the same with Haralson. Its not the draft picks, but the good will.

            1. Some positions are cheaper and more available through free agency so it is important to stock those 1-4 roster spots with as many positions that are expensive and scarce on the free agent market as possible. Stock the roster with rookie contracts in the higher priced positions. Why waste a high pick on a position that can be filled easily through free agency.

            2. I think, as a 9ers fan, this is a sad day. But we must move on and since we do, two things need to happen. We make a STONG move for Murray. Yeah, he’s been hurt, but different role in SF. I then say get Gordon or Gurley. Gurley runs like Gore and if we can get Gordon, that’s garrison Hearst 2.0 and that worked well. But with no high octane back, Collin Kap ain’t gonna be too productive

          2. I’m sure you know this already…but just as a reminder…Draft picks are like cash–just like cigarettes in prison.
            Even late round picks are valuable depending upon how they’re used.
            Diamond-in-the-rough, injured or troubled players can be found in later rounds.
            Late round picks can also be packaged for more picks or better picks in same Draft or in subsequent Drafts.
            In this case, if they don’t have a real need for Wilhoite, a perenial backup, why not shop him and see what other teams are willing to offer?
            They can always choose to keep him if they don’t get what they’re asking.

            1. And with players like Tre Millard coming off NFI, Wilhoite’s special teams role might be diminished.

    2. I understand the concerns with only getting a 5th or 6th rounder for someone that filled in admirably as a starter last season.

      However, he’s the 4th ILB when everyone is healthy (and hopefully they will be) and the 5th ILB (Moody) showed some promise when given a chance last year (though he really needs to learn to finish his tackles – he got himself into position to make some big plays at the end of last year but then failed to finish).

      I think this really is a case of roster math, and so may as well try and get something for him if they can.

      1. BINGO!!
        They could be shopping him for extra picks to move up at some point also. Not a big Whilhoite fan. I think he takes plays off and isn’t a very god tackler. Of course watching 52-53 for years kinda puts some salt on the backups. Lol

      2. Maybe I’m not understanding, but this would be a great deal for a team that needs a ILB that can start. The 49ers will tender him at minimal salary, then trade his rights. And all the other team has to do is give up a 6th or 7th round pick! You get a starter at a CHEAP price for a very LATE round draft pick. How could that be a bad deal for the other team? Now if we could get a 5th round pick (or better yet, 4th round pick), I could understand this better.

        1. I wasn’t trying to suggest this was a bad deal for which ever team trades for him cubus. However, I think 49er fans may be starting to over value Wilhoite a bit.

          Basically if the 49ers tender him, they can either go:
          – First refusal only for $1.323 million
          – First refusal + compensation = to the round they took him in for $1.431 million. As an UDFA that would be no compensation, so no point offering Wilhoite this
          – First refusal + compensation = 2nd round pick for $2.187 million
          – First refusal + compensation = 1st round pick for $3.113 million.

          I’m not 100% certain on the values, they may be for a previous year, but the general principle remains.

          Basically, the 49ers are telling teams they will offer Wilhoite a RFA tender, and it will likely be one of the bottom two listed (or otherwise no compensation would be warranted). However, no team is going to give up a 1st or 2nd for Wilhoite. I really don’t think they’d get a 3rd rounder either, not for a guy that did an admirable job filling in last year, but was nothing great. Heck, he was overshadowed by a rookie 3rd round pick.

          So a 4th rounder is probably the absolute best they could realistically hope for. And I think a 5th or 6th rounder for Wilhoite is probably more likely what teams would be willing to pay for him.

          1. “How could that be a bad deal for the other team?”

            Sorry, Scooter. My quoted question was rhetorical and I didn’t mean to imply that you or anyone else was suggesting that. It just seems like a great deal for the other team and I’d like to see the 49ers get a 4th or at worst 5th round pick. I thought maybe there was something I’m not understanding as to why they would advertise that they would be willing to take a 6th or 7th round pick. BTW: it seems to me that when you include “or 7th round pick” in your requirements, then what you get offered is a 7th round pick. But maybe that’s done to lure potential traders and then you hit them with a “we want a 6th round pick”. Again, I think it should be a lower numbered round.

            1. I do think 49er fans are over valuing Wilhoite a bit. He’s a handy backup to have, but as a starting ILB he’s the guy you are looking to upgrade from.

              If everyone is healthy there is no guarantee he’d even make the 49ers 53-man roster this year. He’d be battling Nick Moody for the 4th ILB spot, and I thought Moody showed some flashes of play-making potential towards the end of last year.

              1. Scooter- You make a lot of sense. He might not make the roster next season so it is better if they trade him now rather than wait until the 53 man cuts. I think Trent learned his lesson about waiting too long to trade a player whom you might have to cut. I don’t believe that is one mistake he will repeat.

        2. Wilhoite for a 5th-6th-7th rounder would be a great deal for another team. If he’s released by the 49ers, it would be an even better deal for that team.

          Anyone know how many years left on Wilhoite’s contract? If he’s a one-year rental, that would reduce his value.

          1. He’s a free agent.

            I posted above he was a restricted free agent and outlined the tender options they have for him, but I was wrong. He’s actually an exclusive rights free agent, which means if the 49ers offer him a contract there is nothing another team can do to sign him away from the 49ers outside of trading for him. And that contract can be the league minimum.

            1. I asked if what was left on Wilhoite’s contract from the perspective of the receiving team. I don’t know how long a team can retain an RFA trade. One year? Two?

              If Wilhoite can walk after 2015, that lessens his trade value.

              1. Well, as a FA there are no years left on his contract.

                I believe as an EFA, the 49ers can retain him this year for the league minimum, and then next year he would be a RFA. I would assume the same rules apply for whichever team trades for him.

  8. Helu is a good choice but I’d like to see them go with someone more dynamic and able to contribute on special teams as a KR or PR. Reggie Bush, CJ Spiller? (if they can be had under $4m) Pierre Thomas or Ryan Mathews as a cheaper alternative.

    Still need to draft a RB but if a veteran is picked up – then don’t draft a RB before the 3rd or 4th round and let Rathman do his magic.

  9. Unlike Gore, Ajayi fumbles too much. I don’t see Baalke drafting a running back in the second round again. It’s deep and there’s a speedy, good sized running back that would be a nice change of pace back to pair with Mr. Hyde. In the 6th or 7th round, the 49ers could select Michael Dyer. Running 4.58 at 5′-9″ 218lbs, his performance against Florida St. was impressive….

    1. Your right razor. Dyer was a beast of a high school prospect coming out. Went to auburn and I believe got in trouble. Sounds familiar to outside linebacker on the niners named lynch. That could be a great pick.

    2. Gore used to fumble every 5 qtrs or so. He’s greatly improved that in the second half of his career. Of many good attributes people overlook in Gore.

      Remember how bad Alex Smith’s ball security was? Towards the end of his 49er career, his ball security was among the best of all QBs.

      It boils down to whether they think Rathman can scare Ajayi into hanging on to the ball.

      1. Ajayi has 10-inch hands. Fumbling shouldn’t be an issue for him.

        Abdullah has 8 5/8-inch hands. Fumbling will be a big issue for him.

        1. Does hand size impact on fumbling? I can see how it could be an issue for catching the ball, but fumbling is more about how you secure the ball, and that is done with far more than your hands.

          1. I’ll never forget the video of Mariucci and the 5 points of pressure. A perfect formula for not fumbling!

          1. One lost fumble every 107 touches. Not terrible. I think he can improve his ball security. But it’s a fair concern.

        2. Grant,
          Good point, larger hands should result in better ball security. I like Ajayi as well. But trying to find a Frank Gore equal may be easier said than done.
          There’s a reason why FG is the 49ers all-time rushing leader.

          Gore has an uncanny knack for finding the smallest crease between tackles and hits the hole more like a fullback for someone his size. Gore is also a tremendous blocking RB which is a lost art among today’s running-backs.

          If we are going to be a run first offense we need another horse like C.Hyde and Ajayi fits the bill much better in that system.
          If Ajayi is still on the board for our 3rd pick he would be a steal.
          But this is a fairly deep draft for RB’s and we could find a gem in the 4th and possibly the 5th rds.

    1. “If the Niners wait and cut Brooks after June 1, they would create $4.7 million in cap space, so they’ll probably cut him after June 1.”

      Grant: They would most likely “designate” Brooks as an after June 1st cut. I believe this means that Brooks would be gone virtually immediately and the team would not need to pay him any upcoming roster or workout bonuses, which according to overthecap.com amounts to $1.3 million. The rest of the freed up money is not available until after June 1st, but I believe those savings could be used to sign the rookie class.

  10. “According to Pro Football Focus, Dockett has a career +50.2 pass rush grade. However, his -122.9 run defense grade is the lowest of any interior defensive lineman over the PFF era.”

    Interesting stat. That run defense grade is terrible, which seems to go completely against what the 49ers look for in their DL. Makes me think if the 49ers sign Dockett he may be looked at as a passing down specialist only.


    1. Can’t remember where I read this, but it’s possible that the plan might be to have a J. Smith and Dockett rotation. Smith in on running downs and Dockett in on “obvious” passing downs.

      1. I don’t have any sources but a fan from Arizona on Twitter said that Dockett is returning to Arizona. I guess one way or the other will find out soon.

    1. If Kevin White does end up being the first WR off the board, and Cooper falls to around #9/ #10, the 49ers should strongly consider trading up for him.

      1. Trade chart would suggest that to go from 15 to 10 would be 1st, 3rd and 4th and from 15 to 9 would be 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th. It seems like a lot. Do you think it’s worth it?

        1. I can see us giving up a third next year instead of this year cause of the comp picks we will be getting.

          1. Good point CK, that is definitely something worth keeping in mind when considering trade scenarios.

          2. Yes, good point. Let’s see, though, isn’t the rule of thumb that a future round pick is approx. equal to a round +1 pick for this year (i.e. 2016 third round pick would equal 2015 4th round pick)?

          1. Based on draft trade chart, 49ers would win the points on that one. Of course the chart is only a guide. Another possibility, but probably a very remote one, would be including player(s) in the trade.

          2. Only one problem with your plan. If the Raiders pass on Cooper and take White, Cleveland and Kansas City will be thinking the same thing. For that reason, I have my doubts you could wait until 10 and expect him to still be there….

            1. I’m just responding to what’s in the article, razor.

              I think the chances of Cooper getting past the Raiders are slim. If he does, I don’t see him falling far because someone will likely be willing to move up and get him.

              The only thing that could possibly see him fall to around #9 or #10 is if the Raiders take White and there is a big run on pass rushers/ OL.

              1. If the Raiders took White, the Redskins might be inclined to auction off their pick to compensate for their incompetence in 2012….

  11. How good is Cooper? If he is close to Jerry Rice good he is will worth the trade up. If he is TO good (without the drama) he is worth it. So how good does Balke think he is?

  12. From Rotoworld:

    “Mike Jurecki of XTRA 910 Phoenix hears the 49ers are “closing in” on signing free agent DE Darnell Dockett.
    Staying in the NFC West with San Francisco would give Dockett a chance to face the team that cut him twice per year. He would compete with Tank Carradine and others for the starting defensive end job vacated by Ray McDonald.”

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