SFI draft preview: Running backs

Garrison Hearst. Kevan Barlow. Fred Beasley. Terry Jackson. Those are four very good reasons the 49ers won't be making running back a high priority in the NFL Draft this weekend.

 But even though the Niners are two-deep with quality performers at both the tailback and fullback positions, and have six running backs returning from last year's roster, that doesn't rule out the possibility San Francisco will use one of its nine picks on yet another running back.

 The Niners have a history of doing that. San Francisco has selected a running back in each of the past six drafts and seven of the last eight.

 "You can never have enough running backs," Niners general manager Terry Donahue said. "We're going to need every available running back."

 The Niners scored in the draft last year when they grabbed Barlow with their third-round pick. He developed into one of the top rookie running backs in the NFL last year and displayed an upside better than several of the backs selected ahead of him. He gained 512 yards rushing, added 22 receptions and combined with Hearst - who had 1,206 yards rushing and 41 receptions - to give San Francisco one of the top tailback tandems in the league.

 Beasley was heralded as one of the league's top young fullbacks and the versatile Jackson - the team's special teams captain - contributed 229 yards and three touchdowns rushing and receiving. The Niners also return tailbacks Jonas Lewis and Paul Smith.

 Instead of addressing the position in the April draft, the Niners did it in March when they were able to re-sign their starting backfield of Hearst and Beasley, both unrestricted free agents. That almost guarantees that, if the Niners do select a running back, it will be with one of their six picks in the final three rounds. The best fits in that scenario would be prospects such as Oregon's Maurice Morris, BYU's Luke Staley and Ohio State's Jonathan Wells, each of whom could slide into the later rounds.

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