It’s only been a few days into training camp, and the San Francisco 49ers have already endured two major losses at RB. The team confirmed that Kendall Hunter tore his right ACL this past Friday and that LaMichael James dislocated his left elbow on Sunday. Luckily, their starting RB is still healthy as of now, but how should fantasy football owners go about handcuffing Frank Gore should he go down with an injury in 2014?
Hunter will be out for the season, so what about James? To a normal human, a dislocated elbow would probably mean taking it easy for a few months. But James is an NFL RB and is projected to only miss about a month, so he’s still in the mix. However, James is arguably more of a loss to the special teams unit than the offense.
James only had 12 rushing attempts last season, and he is a smaller back at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds (Gore is 5-foot-9, 217 pounds). It’s unclear how well he would serve as more than just a change-of-pace back in the San Francisco power running offense. James has also had trouble with pass protection and fumbling, most apparent in his second-quarter fumble during Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens.
Then there’s Carlos Hyde. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Hyde is a power back who could legitimately be a starting-caliber RB if Gore was to get injured this year. He is an explosive RB who can run through defenders, as well as pass protect and catch passes.
Hyde has yet to play a snap in the NFL, but he ran for over 1,500 yards and 15 TDs his last season at Ohio State University. He has the talent to carry the offense as long as he learns the playbook and can adapt to the game speed at the pro level. If he gets an opportunity in 2014, Hyde could very well solidify his role as the starter in 2015, as Gore is on the last year of his contract.
Then there’s Marcus Lattimore. Though Lattimore suffered a horrific knee injury during his last season at the University of South Carolina, the 49ers drafted him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He is currently on the non-football injury list, but reports have been optimistic that Lattimore is close to returning.
While Lattimore was a beast in college, it’s a tough transition for any RB to the NFL. Add in the fact that he tore his ACL, PCL and MCL, and it’s an even more arduous process for Lattimore. While he may eventually fully regain his speed and explosiveness, I find it hard to believe that Lattimore will automatically recover and transition flawlessly at the pro level to be productive this season.
There’s also Jewel Hampton, who sat on the 49ers’ practice squad all of last year after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2012. I mention him mostly for your reference. In the unlikely case that all the RBs ahead of Hampton on the 49ers’ depth chart are injured, the team would probably sign a veteran free agent RB over starting Hampton.
As of right now, I probably wouldn’t even bother handcuffing Gore. There just isn’t a clear-cut backup RB in San Francisco. The most likely scenario if Gore was to miss time would be some kind of timeshare between James, Hyde and Lattimore. If I had to pick a guy right now though, I would definitely lean towards Hyde. Hyde is the most talented and healthiest of the RBs behind Gore, and he has the most upside for next year in keeper leagues.