The San Francisco 49ers surprised some people by selecting running back LaMichael James in the second round (61st overall) last April, as they already had plenty of running back depth with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon in place as well as Brandon Jacobs being signed as a free agent. James played collegiately at Oregon while 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh was at Stanford, so that familiarity certainly played a role in the decision to draft him even if James did not have an clear role right out of the gate as a rookie.
James was a healthy scratch for each of he first 12 games this season, but an Achilles’ injury suffered by Hunter in Week 12 and a three-game suspension of Jacobs shortly after has opened up an opportunity. James has 16 carries for 61 yards over the last two games, along with one reception for 15 yards in that span, but a key 62-yard kickoff return late in Week 15′s win over the New England Patriots highlighted his contributions in that area (212 total kickoff return yards) over the last two weeks.
How the roles will play out in the 49ers’ backfield in 2013 is unclear, but Gore will turn 30 prior to next season and will be approaching 2,000 career regular season carries as well. Hunter should be ready to go for the start of training camp since he’ll have ample time to recover, but how effective he will be is a question. Dixon’s role is simply not prominent at this point (16 carries this season) and it’s hard to see that changing dramatically.
James would seem to be an excellent fit for a San Francisco offense that has Colin Kaepernick under center, and all indications are Kaepernick will be the team’s starting quarterback next season. James is not a quintessential 20-carry per game workhorse back at 5’8″ and 194 pounds, but as a multi-dimensional weapon his ceiling is high with the potential for more playing time and touches next season.
Even though it’s too late this season to consider adding him, fantasy owners should still keep an eye on James’ workload over the final two regular season games. With a move into slightly more playing time and double-digit offensive touches, a glimpse of his potential could easily come. It will also be interesting to see how he is used during the postseason, as opposing teams won’t have a lot of game film to refer to in preparation for how he’ll be deployed. Harbaugh and San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman will most certainly have something in mind to get the most out of him.
James could be worthy of a draft pick in deep single season leagues next year, but those in dynasty leagues should particularly have him on their radar. Be sure to keep an eye on any offseason moves San Francisco makes at running back, but right now his fantasy stock is on the rise with the chance to rise significantly as next season gets closer.