49ers Positional Analysis Running Back
January 22 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
Providing the 49ers manage to re-sign two key free agents, the running back position - a position highly questioned last season appears to be one of the most solid this off-season. In large part this is due to the miraculous recover of NFL Comeback Player Of The Year Garrison Hearst. However it wasnít just him that made the 49ers one of the best running team in the league, they simply have a great group of backs across the board.
Garrison Hearst becomes a free agent this off-season, and after taking a huge salary reduction last season to stay on the team will likely be looking for some big time money. Hearst could be tempted to test the water, but if the 49ers have it their way, they will lock him up for another two seasons likely with a third season optional. The deal, with incentives and bonuses would likely be in the area of $4 - 5 million. The 49ers and Hearst have stuck with each other for a long time now, despite some pretty shaky times, there is little reason to believe that their good relations will end any time soon.
Fred Beasley is the other key free agent in the 49ers backfield. Beasley is one of the best full backs in the league, and the 49ers running game did suffer when he was out of the game last season. Beasley must be careful not to ask for too much money though, because the 49ers will be tempted to go in an opposite direction if they have to. Beasley is a tenacious blocker and opened holes for Hearst all season. If the two sides can agree on a reasonable contract he should be back.
Kevan Barlow last seasonís third round draft pick appears to be a great find for the team. Barlow provided a great change of pace for Hearst and muscled his way to a great season. Barlow appears to be the heir apparent to Hearst, but could likely use another year to better understand the 49ers offense and improve his blitz protections schemes.
Terry Jackson is the most versatile player the 49ers have in their backfield. Jackson blocks, runs and catches. Amazingly he does it all very well, and is the best combination of the three skills the 49ers can offer. Jackson would take over for Beasley if the 49ers canít re-sign him, but he would see some competition from some younger talent already on the roster.
Paul Smith is big running back who saw very little action this season. However last season, Smith proved he can run and block. Smith, a special teams head hunter may have what it takes to develop into a very good fullback in the NFL, but there is a lot of talent ahead of him that he would have to fight through.
Finally Jonas Lewis who spent the season injured looked very impressive in pre-season. Lewis is a very fast player, who also excels on special teams. With so much talent ahead of Lewis he will have a hard time getting into the thick of things next season. But his talent shows just how much depth the 49ers have in their offensive backfield.
The 49ers have a very deep and strong offensive backfield. Some key signings this off-season will provide information on who will be in what role next season. It seems safe to say however, that the 49ers have addressed one of last seasonsí biggest areas of concerns with this very talented group.