San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is not exactly known for verbose responses to media queries. Given his history, it was no surprise when he gave a five-syllable response to fellow Michigan alum Rich Eisen when asked by the NFL Network analyst about drafting Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
"Fellow Big Ten-er," Harbaugh deadpanned after cracking a smile.
Aside from the storyline of a Michigan Man coaching a Buckeye, the 49ers selection of Hyde probably caused some heads to turn around the league. San Francisco currently employs power-runner Frank Gore, and they'll also get to test out former South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore, who sat out his would-be rookie season while rehabbing an ACL tear.
That Hyde was even around with the No. 57 overall pick was surprising, but his presence caused the 49ers to trade up into the spot shortly after trading down. Running back wasn't a pressing need on their draft board, but the player that many draft experts labeled as the best ballcarrier of this year's group found his way onto their draft card.
"Best player available," San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said. "Highest-graded player on our board and just felt that it was too good of value to pass up."
No running backs were selected in the first round in 2013, and that possibility appeared more and more likely to repeat as the draft drew near. Still, Hyde was described by draft analysts as a borderline late first round or early second round prospect, which made his decline into a late second round pick feel even longer.
Not only was he not a first-rounder, Hyde wasn't even the first running back off the board. The Tennessee Titans chose Washington running back Bishop Sankey No. 54 overall – the longest a running back has ever waited to be selected first among his peers – and the Cincinnati Bengals scooped up LSU product Jeremy Hill with the next pick.
"I was just being patient," Hyde said. "I was telling myself, ‘Just be patient. There's teams out there that know what you can do and know how your skill set can help their team, so just be patient.'"
That team picked up the phone two spots later and traded into the No. 57 slot. Although Hyde didn't visit San Francisco for a pre-draft workout, he identified them as a team with serious interest after speaking to a scout the week before the draft.
They also had no concerns about the nightclub altercation that led to a three-game suspension prior to the start of the 2013 season. Hyde was never charged after footage that exonerated him surfaced, and he doesn't believe that incident caused his stock to fall. The selection of Hill (who has multiple convictions on his record) before him would seem to confirm that belief. Hyde spoke about his incident with members of the 49ers staff at the NFL Combine in February and said he simply told them what happened.
That was enough to reassure them that he was worth a pick, and he'll compete for a job while also serving as an insurance policy for one of his role models. Frank Gore is entering the final year of his contract, and the presence of Hyde gives the 49ers leverage when it comes to negotiations as well as a fallback plan if an agreement can't be reached.
With that being said, Hyde will have his shot in camp to show where he belongs on the depth chart.
"I embrace competition," he said. "I love competing. I feel like competition brings out the best in me, so I'm really looking forward to get out there and compete right away."
In a pass-happy league, San Francisco still values running the ball. In 2013, for instance, just two teams ran the ball more often (Buffalo, Seattle) or for more yards (Philadelphia, Buffalo) than the 49ers did. With Hyde, they get a player who possesses all the attributes they value in running backs.
"He's more than just a power back," Baalke said. "He's not a home-run hitter every time he touches the ball, but he's capable – just as Frank has been capable over his career – to break some long runs. He runs our style of offense very well. He's got great vision, he's got great feet, he runs with his pads low and he can make the offensive line better. That's what you're looking for in running backs. Can they make the offensive line better and make their job easier? He has a knack for doing that, as do all of our backs.
Hyde showed that last fall. The Naples, Fla., native became the first non-quarterback coached by Urban Meyer to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season by amassing 1,521 yards on 208 carries in just 11 games. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns.
The biggest argument for Hyde, though, is that when Ohio State was in desperate need of a first down or a clock-churning drive, it turned to its bruising tailback. That won't necessarily be the case in the Bay Area this fall. When asked if the team would use Gore, Hyde and Lattimore as a "three-headed monster," Baalke said the approach to the backfield will vary in certain situations.
"There's only one football, and it's up to the coaches to figure out how to put all the pieces together and they'll do an excellent job of doing that," he said. "We've talked about that three-headed deal. I think when you hear coach talk and you hear myself talk, the bottom line is winning football games and doing what it takes to win football games. If there's a game when the three-back approach is going to benefit us, I'm sure that's what we're going to do. When there's a game when it's one guy carrying the load (that will help us), that's what we're going to do."
Hyde made no secret of the fact that he thinks he can contribute immediately. When he does see the field, 49ers fans can expect to see a healthy dose of punishment.
"I would describe my game as violent," Hyde said. "What I bring is, I play with a lot of passion. I feel like guys can feed off that. They see how hard I run the ball and how much determination I run with, and I feel like guys can feed off that."