The 2013 season for LaMichael James was a very interesting one as it had some lows with a few highs that at the end of the season will leave many pondering about his 2014 status with the San Francisco 49ers. James’ 2013 season started with him missing the first three games of the season due to a sprained knee ligament injury. In total, James was active for 10 of the 49ers regular season games and for all three postseason games.
As a running back, James had little impact during the 2013 season as he had 12 carries for 59 yards with his longest rush going for 21 yards while he also had two receptions for 16 yards. In 10 games during the 2013 season, his numbers do not compare to those from his 2012 season when in the four regular season games he was active for James had 27 carries for 125 yards rushing and three receptions for 29 receiving yards. In large part this had to due with the fact that Kendall Hunter was healthy for the entire 2013 season.
While James made no impact as a runner or pass catcher out of the backfield during the 2013 season, his value and importance came in the return game. Late in the season, the 49ers decided that they had seen enough of Kyle Williams as a punt and kickoff returner and decided to release the veteran wide receiver who proved to be untrustworthy whenever he fielded a punt or kickoff. Once James assumed the duties as the full-time punt and kickoff returner in Week 10 of the regular season, he finished 23 punt returns for 251 punt return yards and 12 kickoff returns for 321 kickoff return yards.
Most importantly, James came in and gave the 49ers some stability in the punt and kickoff return role — something that did not exist at the end with Kyle Williams. In addition to being a competent and reliable at the moment of catching a punt or kickoff, James showed he could be counted on to deliver a big return at a critical moment. In the regular season finale the Arizona Cardinals, James had a kickoff return that helped start a game-winning drive with less than a minute left to win the game 23-20. Then in the NFC Wild-Card win over the Green Bay Packers, his kickoff return right after the Packers had taken a 217-13 lead got a 49ers’ touchdown drive started in very good field position.
While it is unlikely that LaMichael James will see much time as a running back next season with the 49ers given that Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter will be back along with a healthy Marcus Lattimore, that does not mean he doesn’t have a future. Given how well he performed as a punt and kickoff returner, one can expect to see James be the designated 49ers punt and kickoff return specialist for the 2014 season.