“Counterparts to be counted on” is a 32-part series where we the “Front Office” of couchpotatogm.com analyze an offensive player and a defensive player on each team that MUST have a particularly strong individual season in 2016 for their respective teams to have a successful 2016 campaign. With all of the news swirling around Colin Kaepernick it’s entirely possible that he has absolutely NO impact on the 49ers’ on-field performance this season. So who does that leave?
San Francisco 49ers “Counterparts to be Counted On” 2016
Carlos Hyde – If the 49ers plan on winning games this season for first year head coach Chip Kelly they need to be able to run the football down opponents’ throats. The most talented player on the Niners offense is Carlos Hyde and his health and endurance will be tested in Kelly’s fast paced, run-first spread offense. The biggest knock on Hyde in his young career has been health, missing 11 games in his first 2 seasons. The talented 3rd year running back possesses a rare, power and quickness combination which should work out perfectly with what Kelly wants to do on offense.
Hyde is no stranger to the mesh system which is a staple of Kelly’s offense as he ran it and ran it well when he was in college playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Urban Meyer’s zone running scheme in which Hyde ran the ball 393 times for 2,491 yards and 31 TDs is very similar to what he will be asked to do in 2016. Hyde’s decisiveness, quickness, and ability to break tackles could make him a force to reckon with this season. The new look offense will also give Hyde an opportunity to showcase his ability in the passing game. The slimmed down Hyde realizes that being in shape will be a key component this season to enduring what can be a 300 carry campaign if he can stay healthy.
With the quarterback position still a question mark between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert and the receiving core lacking talent outside of Torrey Smith, the only thing going for the Niners offense is Hyde. It will be Hyde or nothing for the Niners offense because if he struggles or goes down with an injury the team is looking at another 5 win season at best.
Aaron Lynch/Eli Harold – The days of Justin Smith and Aldon Smith reeking havoc on opposing quarterbacks is in the rear view for the Niners defense. The defense still have some familiar faces holding down the fort but all in all the Niners are in the midst of a rebuild, injecting some new talent along their once dominant front seven. GM Trent Baalke has predominately drafted on the defensive side of the ball during his tenure. It’s been more of the same the last two seasons as he has selected a pair of Oregon defensive ends Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner along with DE Ronald Blair to sure up their odd man front. Building the defensive trenches is a key component in the success of any 3-4 defense but edge rushing talent that gets to the quarterback is what makes a good defense a great defense.
So where will the Niners generate such pressure? It will lie in the hands of 2014 5th round pick Aaron Lynch who by the way is suspended for the first 4 games due to substance abuse, and last year’s 3rd round pick Eli Harold who bulked up from 245 pounds to a chiseled 270 pounds this off-season. As a team, the Niners only produced 28 sacks last season which ranked 29th in the league. To put that total in perspective, Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks in the 2012 season by himself, which is the same year the Niners made their Super Bowl run. The issues on the offensive side of the ball are apparent with their lack of talent, therefore the defense will have to go to great lengths to keep the team in ball games this season. The spotlight will be on Lynch and Harold.
After back to back productive seasons totaling at least 6 sacks the pass rusher out of the University of South Florida, Lynch, had high hopes coming into the 2016 season but with his recent substance abuse suspension his outlook has dampened a bit. Enter Harold who will need to fill the void until Lynch get back from his suspension. Harold who was an exciting prospect last season out of the University of Virginia looked to have had passing rushing chops with explosive speed and strength off the edge but he was unable to get a QB sack in his rookie season. However, with the extending playing time he will receive because of Lynch’s suspension and the new-found strength he accumulated in the off-season, the opportunity for more QB pressures/sacks will be his for the taking. If Lynch can recover mentally from his suspension and stay in shape with the time he will be away from the team, then he and Harold can be the counterparts DUO the Niners lean on this season.