The 49ers currently do not have their top running back from a year ago under contract.

Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 938 yards and added a team-high 59 receptions for 350 yards, will be allowed on March 12 to begin negotiating contracts with other teams around the NFL. How those teams value Hyde will likely determine if he remains with the 49ers.

Coach Kyle Shanahan made it clear he wants Hyde back with the 49ers. But it would have to be a contract that works for both sides. And one element that will play a factor in the free-agent market for running backs is a deep and talented group of players available in the draft.

The 49ers could easily decide to not make a significant investment in a free-agent running back and, instead, address the need with a selection within the first four rounds of the draft.

“That whole dynamic of that position, in many people’s minds, is losing value, but I think much like a quarterback, when there’s a great one, it’s tough to deal with,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of the running back position. "I know that from playing defense.

“So I think is that changing? I don’t know. I think everyone has their own perspective. But that is a position where you can affect a game in a great way.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan’s father, Mike Shanahan, had uncommon success on his Denver Broncos teams with running backs discovered late in drafts, such as Terrell Davis (sixth round), Olandis Gary (fourth round) and Mike Anderson (sixth round). The Broncos also selected Clinton Portis in the second round.