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Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde were prime Fantasy draft targets last year. Both finished as No. 2 options, helped by healthy roles that saw them given plenty of opportunities for the games they were healthy for. Hyde averaged 18.8 touches per game over 13 starts and averaged 11.8 Fantasy points in them. Miller outdid Hyde in the touch department, handling 21.4 per game, but racked up fewer Fantasy points per game -- 10.6 -- in 14 matchups.
There are signs pointing to both backs losing their grip on their touches in 2017, based on what we've seen in training camp and the preseason.
During the offseason, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said he wanted to find another back to help Lamar Miller handle the rushing workload. After the first preseason game, he and his staff should begin seeing evidence that such a plan is doable.
Once Houston was up against backup defenders, both Alfred Blue and rookie D'Onta Foreman looked solid. Both ran with power, though Foreman was more impressive, particularly on this 41-yard romp. Point is, if these two keep proving they can help take touches off of Miller, the Texans won't be shy to take them up on it, and Miller's volume will decline.
"You just kind of rotate every couple of series or by personnel or whatever it is," O'Brien said this week about finding playing time for his running backs. "It's not too hard to find playing time for, really, everybody."
Miller himself didn't put up any numbers, racking up 0 yards on two carries and a target. It didn't help that the Texans offensive line was ugly for its first two series. They need starting left tackle Duane Brown back on the field.
Hopefully Miller finds some playing time over the next two weeks to re-establish his dominant role. But even if he does, expecting another 299 touches like he had in 2016 keeps getting harder and harder to envision.
It is worth noting, Miller has been more efficient in smaller roles before, rushing for 1,099 yards on just 216 carries in 2014, so it might not be the end of the world. However, he's a risky third-round pick at this point.
Hyde started for the 49ers but only played seven snaps and had two carries for no yards and a three-yard grab. He looked fine.
Breida was in first after Hyde and definitely looked comfortable running Kyle Shanahan's offense. While he was able to scrape off Chiefs tacklers who grabbed for his legs, Breida just didn't quite have enough power to push piles. He had three shots at the end zone from the one-yard line and couldn't get in on any of them, fumbling the ball on the last of three tries - a bad sign for his odds.
Williams saw time after (and with) Breida in the second and third quarters and was just a little more impressive. He began with back-to-back 17-yard runs. The first one was well blocked, helping Williams burst into the second level while forcing a missed tackle and breaking through another. The second one saw him break another tackle and push through two defenders to pick up extra yards. Admittedly, he benefited from good blocking - playing versus backups.
The key difference between Williams and Breida involves power. Williams has big, strong legs to help him break through tackles. Breida isn't afraid of taking on defenders but doesn't quite have the same leg drive and power - he's list at 15 pounds lighter than Williams, and 45 pounds lighter than Hyde - at least not in this game. Combined with his cutting ability and speed, not to mention pretty good pass protection, Williams makes for an intriguing back.
And both of them, along with Tim Hightower, who didn't play in the preseason opener, are all threats to take work away from Hyde. This is also a 49ers team that figures to play from behind a decent amount of the time, further limiting the amount of handoffs to go around.
Add on Shanahan's success using two running backs routinely in Atlanta last year, and it's beginning to look like a mess. It shouldn't scare anyone off from drafting Hyde entirely, but he's a safer choice in Round 4 or later. Backing him up with a teammate like Williams, Hightower or Breida makes sense -- but we're just not confident in saying one is absolutely going to be the guy if Hyde falters.
For now, Williams looks like the best bet.