• There's no doubt that the 49ers running back is very talented, but he's struggling in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Should San Francisco move on from him, or remain patient? And more on impactful injuries, the end of Greg Robinson's time with the Rams and more.
By Chris Burke
June 02, 2017

A check on the latest news from around the league as OTAs continue ...

First-year 49ers GM John Lynch has maintained the same outlook on RB Carlos Hyde for the entirety of this off-season: He’s a talented back, but we have to see how he meshes with Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

The early verdict? Hyde might not fit—at all.

Here’s Grant Cohn of The Press Democrat after the 49ers’ Wednesday OTA workout:

“Hyde is the slowest and most indecisive running back on the team. I’m not saying he’s bad—he does have quick feet between the tackles, he can bounce inside runs to the outside and he plows through defenders. But he doesn’t seem to have the vision to succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone running scheme. Tuesday, he was the only running back who never found a hole to run through. On one stretch play, he missed a cutback lane, tried to bounce around the outside even though the linebacker had set the edge and lost three yards. The Niners should trade him to a team that runs the zone read.”

No tip-toeing about in that assessment. And a trade of Hyde in the coming weeks is a distinct possibility, even though he’s coming off a career-best season (988 yards rushing, six TDs, 4.6 yards per attempt)—he would have hit the 1,000-yard mark had he not torn his MCL during Week 16. It’s a topic that arose in earnest prior to the draft, amid rumors that the 49ers might even consider Leonard Fournette with the No. 2 pick (before they traded it to Chicago).

Off-Season Report Cards: NFC West

Lynch said at the combine in February that, for he and Shanahan, “the first thing we need to do is really study and get an inventory on what we have. And [in] the process for doing that, we watched a lot of film together and Carlos was a guy we’re very excited about. I think Kyle has an ability to maximize the skills of running backs both in the run game and the pass game, and I think Carlos fits that mold and we think he’s got a lot more.”

In April, though, Lynch said this, according to SFGate.com: “You have these thoughts as to ’Do these skills translate to what we do?’ He’s a very talented young man. We are very excited and hopeful, just in the interactions that we’ve had, that he’s come ready to play.”

Again, no question about Hyde’s overall ability; hesitation about whether or not he can thrive within Shanahan’s offense. It is a shift from the primarily inside-zone attacks with which Hyde found success under Chip Kelly last season and at Ohio State.

Behind Hyde on the depth chart right now are four players all handpicked by Lynch and Shanahan over the past few months: Tim Hightower (free agent), Kapri Bibbs (trade), Joe Williams (draft) and Matt Breida (UDFA). Only Hightower has seen any extensive NFL action, but a lack of experience did not keep Devonta Freeman (2014 draft pick) and Tevin Coleman (2015) from shining under Shanahan’s watch.

The other relevant piece to the puzzle here is what the 49ers might be able to get back by unloading Hyde. Recent history suggests the answer is: not much.

A trendy sleeper pick with a kicker battle, the Buccaneers are in for a fascinating summer

The 49ers traded a 2018 fourth-rounder to Denver for Bibbs and a ’17 fifth-rounder, a framework similar to other RBs moves of late—Oakland received a fifth for Marshawn Lynch and a sixth; Philadelphia and Tennessee swapped fourth-round selections in last year’s DeMarco Murray move; and Philadelphia landed Kiko Alonso for LeSean McCoy in 2015.

Would a slight climb up the mid-rounds be enough to entice San Francisco in any Hyde trade talks? Lynch would have a difficult time finding much more, for a RB coming off a knee injury and in the last year of his contract.

We’ll see. Right now, Hyde is very much in limbo.

A setback in Chicago

The Bears’ potential No. 1 receiver (by performance and default), Cameron Meredith, will be out of action until at least late July after suffering a thumb injury Thursday. The Chicago Tribune confirmed a recovery timeline of six-to-eight weeks, with surgery a possibility.

Even at eight weeks, Meredith still would be back in time for the preseason, making this merely a situation to monitor as far as regular-season availability. It does shift Chicago’s plans in the meantime, though, arguably in both a positive and negative direction.

The downside is that neither Mike Glennon nor rookie Mitchell Trubisky will have any opportunity the next two months to develop on-field rapport with Meredith, who caught 66 passes for 888 yards last season. The pro: The Bears can take any reps reserved for their one near-sure thing at receiver and disperse them amongst Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Reuben Randle, Kendall Wright, Daniel Braverman, Victor Cruz and others.

NFL GMs under pressure to get results in 2017

An even bigger setback in Baltimore

More proof that, transactions aside, the only OTA news that matters is the bad news. Thursday, Baltimore lost second-year cornerback Tavon Young for the season to a torn ACL. A 2016 fourth-round pick, Young turned in an impressive rookie season, notching 11 starts. He was expected to be the starting nickel corner this year.

The Ravens’ run of bad luck at the CB spots has been downright depressing—they had to place five different corners on injured reserve last year alone. If there is any silver lining in the Young injury, it’s the timing, in that Baltimore has all summer to figure out its new plan.

Rookie Marlon Humphrey could be part of the solution, although odds are he sticks outside. A far more likely answer could come from veteran Lardarius Webb, who transitioned to safety in 2016, was released by the Ravens in March and then re-signed in April.

Greg Robinson’s days in L.A. are numbered

This was true even before Thursday, when Jamon Brown took over first-team reps at right tackle—the Rams signed Andrew Whitworth to play left tackle, then declined Robinson’s fifth-year option. If he cannot hold off Brown at RT, though, that would cement Robinson’s status as an all-time Rams draft bust.

“Jamon Brown is a guy who has competed really well,” L.A. coach Sean McVay said, via the team’s website. “He’s done a nice job competing at guard and at tackle. We gave him and Greg a chance to compete. And [I’m] really excited to go back and look at the tape. But I think what we’ve seen from Jamon—really going back to last week—[are] a lot of encouraging things. And Greg’s done some good things as well."

Robinson’s nearly $6.8 million cap number is fully guaranteed for this season, so releasing him would serve little purpose other than the organization washing its hands. Perhaps he could be dealt for a conditional draft choice—his base salary is $3.3 million; the Rams would be responsible for the other $3.5 million or so in prorated bonuses, regardless.

Five-year deal in hand, Matt Kalil out to change course from his first five NFL years

Sleeper watch: Tyler Ervin

John Harris of the Texans’ website declared Thursday that “Tyler Ervin is going to do some great things for this football team on both offense and special teams. He has a different gear when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Ervin’s ability as a gamebreaker has never been in question. Then San Jose State offensive coordinator Jimmie Dougherty told me way back during the 2013 college off-season to keep an eye out for Ervin, whom he said offered remarkable versatility. An ankle injury wrecked Ervin’s subsequent year, but he later posted more than 2,600 total yards as a senior.

He never quite found space in Houston’s offense last season, though, finishing with just one carry and three receptions. His impact on special teams was more pronounced (9.7 yards per punt return, 18.8 per kick return). Ervin faces a lot of company on the depth chart at running back this summer: Lamar Miller, D’onta Foreman and Alfred Blue would seem to be ahead of him. If he can conquer the yips as a return man, though, his explosive playmaking potential should warrant a longer look.

Drew Brees on Ted Ginn: “I could not be more impressed with Teddy”

That quote, via ESPN.com, came Thursday after Ginn spent an OTA practice torching the Saints’ secondary deep. Stretching the field vertically is always what Ginn has done best as a receiver (when he’s catching the ball), and he should plug right into that role again with Brandin Cooks now in New England.

Michael Thomas and Willie Snead probably will hog a lot of Brees’s targets. Ginn, though, averaged 49 receptions and 745 yards the past two seasons in Carolina, so there’s something left in the tank.

High-profile players under pressure even before the 2017 NFL season begins

A long-awaited Cody Latimer sighting?

A few weeks back, I chalked up Latimer as the worst pick of the Broncos’ 2014 draft—they traded up for him in Round 2. This is his last shot to prove me, and any other doubters, wrong. The very early signs are encouraging, as Andrew Mason of DenverBroncos.com wrote Thursday: “Trevor Siemian continued to find Cody Latimer. The two connected multiple times Thursday after doing so Wednesday, including a touchdown pass during a team red-zone period.”

Any positive news matters right now for Latimer, who has all of 16 receptions for 158 yards and a TD over his first three seasons. The arrivals of rookie Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie could put Latimer’s roster spot in jeopardy, if he cannot keep this burst of momentum rolling into June and July.

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