When Carlos Hyde ran over the Minnesota Vikings for 168 yards, two touchdowns and one jaw-dropping spin move Monday night, it wasn't without the, "Yeah, but Week 1" caveat. Still, his performance seemed like more than just a flash in the pan. For the man nicknamed "El Guapo," this was him announcing his presence as the new featured back for the San Francisco 49ers.
In 2014, Hyde entered the league with a decent amount of hype. He was a second-round pick out of Ohio State, where he became Urban Meyer's first-ever 1,000-yard running back and racked up nearly 3,500 total yards in his four-year career. With the 49ers, Hyde was never supposed to be the starter right away, due to veteran Frank Gore's vise-like grip of the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. But he was drafted as Gore's heir apparent, which became clear after the longtime 49er signed with the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason.
As a rookie, Hyde put together an adequate, if mostly unremarkable season, with mere glimpses of the physical back who overpowered defenses during his days in Columbus. In 14 games as Gore's backup, he rushed for 333 yards on 83 carries and four touchdowns, his best performance coming against the Seahawks in his final game of the year. Before leaving the Week 15 matchup with an injury, Hyde showed off his promising skills against the vaunted Seattle defense: six carries for 55 yards, good for a whopping 9.2 yards per carry.
No longer a supporting character this season, Hyde immediately made the most of his starring role. The 49ers, after a turbulent offseason with more upheaval than anyone could keep track of, needed to come out of the gate strong, for the team's sanity more than anything else. And Hyde was their rock on offense. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, he gained a league-high 77 yards after contact against a Vikings defense that gave up more than 168 yards on the ground just once last season -- to an entire team (the Carolina Panthers), not just a single player.
In fact, Hyde's outing against the Vikings puts him in exceptional company. The last player to rush for more than 168 yards against Minnesota was Michael Vick in 2002, when he put up 173 yards on the ground for the Atlanta Falcons. The last running back to gain 168-plus yards? Just some Hall of Famer named Barry Sanders -- his 220 yards in a 1991 game is second only to Walter Payton almost single-handedly beating Minnesota with a 275-yard game for the Bears in 1977. (Sanders' second-best game against the Vikings was 5 yards short of Hyde's total Monday night.)
In the last 40 years, only nine players have rushed for more yardage than Hyde did against the Vikings:
Hyde's production in his 2015 debut is impressive among 49ers running backs as well. In his 10-year career in San Francisco, Gore topped Hyde's single-game performance just twice: once in 2006 (212 yards) and once in 2009 (207 yards). In the last 25 years, Hyde put up the sixth-best total of any 49ers back, behind Gore, Charlie Garner and Garrison Hearst.
One week into the 2015 season, Hyde is the league's top rusher and one of the most celebrated players -- even outside of his own fan base -- heading into Week 2.
It can be dangerous to read too much into the first week of the season. Last year, the NFL's leading rusher after Week 1 was Knowshon Moreno, whose 134 yards on the ground helped power the Miami Dolphins to a huge win over the New England Patriots. Moreno would go on to run for just 14 more yards in 2014 -- injuries prematurely ended his season, and possibly his career, after just two more games. The Patriots, of course, finished the season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
In only the first start of his career, Hyde proved he's ready for the spotlight. Before the game, everyone was talking about the return of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. After the game, everyone was talking about No. 28 on the other team. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but it's a safe bet that Monday night at Levi's Stadium was just a preview of what we'll see from Hyde this season: a bruiser who will bulldoze his way through defenders, trying to carry the 49ers' offense on his back.