In today’s ever evolving NFL, the game has quickly transcended into a pass-happy league. The fullback is becoming obsolete. Tight ends are becoming more valued as receivers than blockers. And most importantly, the NFL rule changes regarding player safety, has hand-cuffed defenses from being aggressive over the middle. For these reasons, more NFL teams are starting to shy away from the traditional smash-mouth running game.
However, the San Francisco 49ers are not one of them.
Cut from the Bill Parcells tree, 49ers GM Trent Baalke understands the importance of running the football. Games are won and lost down in the trenches, and Baalke has built his team embodying that cultural identity.
Since taking over the 49ers war room in 2010, Baalke has drafted six running backs; RB Kendall Hunter, RB LaMichael James, RB Marcus Lattimore, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Mike Davis and RB Kelvin Taylor. Four of those running backs are no taller than 5-10 while all displaying the explosion, instincts, and toughness to be the team’s complementary running back in a two-back system. But none of them up to this point have panned out due to injuries (excluding Taylor).
Although I like the #49ers trading up for OG Joshua Garnett, I would have rather them taken WR Sterling Shepard. Next Steve Smith IMO.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) May 15, 2016
So with the 49ers having a pressing need to backup RB Carlos Hyde, why did they pass up on RB Kenneth Dixon in the fourth-round?
While Baalke would say LSU CB Rashard Robinson was the highest rated player on their board, I can’t help but think Dixon was right up there. At 5-10, 215, I believe Dixon along with New York Giants WR Sterling Shepard will end up being steals of their respective rounds. Shepard was drafted in the second-round while Dixon was drafted in the fourth.
I’m no general manager, but to me this was a perfect storm opportunity for the 49ers, where need meets BPA (Best Player Available).
Hyde’s violent running style is a cause for concern, and the 49ers desperately need a plan B option. Dixon was my third highest rated running back before a considerable drop-off, leaving me to believe that he would have been the better and safer alternative to the troubled but talented LSU cornerback.
He averaged almost twice as many yards after initial contact (3.3) than before first contact (1.7), routinely displayed lateral quickness to make tacklers miss, and showcased elite vision to hit the second-level. He would’ve been a perfect complement to Hyde while providing a nice 1-2 punch that hasn’t been seen in San Francisco since 2001.
A three-year span ranging from 2001 to 2003, the dynamic duo of RB Kevan Barlow and RB Garrison Hearst combined to rush for 5,157 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. Talk about production while raising the level of the talent around you. That’s the type of production, I believe Dixon and Hyde would’ve experienced in San Francisco together under Coach Flat’s ZBS.
Instead the 49ers drafted Robinson, and the Baltimore Ravens quickly selected Dixon one pick later.
I’m not saying Robinson was a bad pick, because he can very well turn out to be a very good press corner. But taking a flyer on a troubled cornerback when Dixon falls in your lap in the fourth-round makes me cringe. Plus, the 49ers already drafted a cornerback earlier in the third-round with CB Will Redmond, so why go corner, again?
While I do like Baalke’s overall draft (including Taylor selection), this is one pick that I have to disagree on, as I believe Dixon should have been the choice. A 49ers backfield that already featured RB Shaun Draughn, RB DuJuan Harris, and Davis, I believe Dixon would have easily supplanted them atop the depth chart despite being a rookie.
In 2015, Dixon racked up 1,537 yards of total offense and 26 touchdowns, despite missing two games due to an ankle injury.