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Bold Fantasy Predictions: San Francisco 49ers

Every offseason the fantasy experts make a series of “bold predictions,” but they often turn out to be pretty ordinary assumptions. That won’t be the case with this recurring column, as I’m going to take chances that I haven’t seen any other fantasy pundits take. I know there is a solid chance that I’ll swing and miss with these predictions, but in the end I have a good feeling they’ll come true. Here is a bold call for the San Francisco 49ers:

Carlos Hyde will finish the season with a higher ranking than Frank Gore.

I was tempted to make this column about Colin Kaepernick, but I don’t want readers to start thinking I have some unhealthy obsession about him. But now that I’ve brought Kaep up, I’ll mention my prediction that he’ll finish the season as a Top 5 fantasy quarterback.

Now back to Hyde, who was the best running back prospect in the draft despite falling to No. 57 overall. I don’t know if it was his power-running style or just the diminished value of the running back position that caused him to tank in the draft, but Hyde was undoubtedly a first-round talent. Still, he should be thanking Mel Kiper or Todd McShay or whoever caused his downfall in the draft, because he could not have landed in a more perfect situation in San Francisco. Hyde finds himself behind Frank Gore on the depth chart, but he’s the only guy standing in his way. Kendall Hunter tore his ACL in training camp and will miss the entire season, and LaMichael James will miss at least a month after dislocating his elbow. Marcus Lattimore is on the roster, but he still hasn’t recovered from one of the most gruesome football injuries of all time. The team did recently sign Alfonso Smith, but he should be a nonfactor considering he couldn’t even get serious playing time in the dismal Cardinals backfield last season.

You’re probably wondering how Hyde will surpass Gore, a five-time Pro Bowler, as just a rookie. Gore is tougher and more durable than most NFL running backs, but he is entering his tenth year in San Francisco. Tenures of that length are almost unheard of nowadays for running backs, so it is probably safe to assume the end is near for Gore. In 2013 he was still effective, but he did have the lowest yards per carry average of his entire career. It was also his third straight season of playing in all 16 games and carrying the ball over 250 times, so there might not be too much left in those legs. Enter Hyde, a bruising runner who actually plays a lot like Gore. He can handle a large workload, and he’s a north-south runner who will cherish running behind Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. He’s excellent as a pass catcher too, and all reports out of training camp say that he’s learning a lot from Gore in terms of pass protection.

I can’t tell the future so I don’t know Hyde will take over as the starter. In one scenario Gore gets injured, then Hyde takes over and never looks back. In another scenario, Gore is simply ineffective early on in the season, so Jim Harbaugh gives Hyde a chance at the starting job to reenergize the offense. If you don’t think Harbaugh would give a veteran like Gore that kind of treatment, just ask Alex Smith about Harbaugh’s policy of starting the guy with the hot hand. I think one of these scenarios will come true, and either way Hyde could breakout just like rookies Eddie Lacy and Zac Stacy did last season. It might take a few weeks for him to get consistent carries, but watch out once it does. I think Hyde will finish the season as a Top 15 running back, so draft him knowing that he has the upside of becoming a solid No. 2 running back for your fantasy team.

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