If a team takes a running back in the second round of the draft, one would think that player would figure heavily into the team’s offensive game plan. After all, most running backs are a dime a dozen in today’s NFL, so if a franchise were to commit that high of a pick to one, they must have viewed the prospect as a special kind of fit.
That’s what makes the case of LaMichael James and the San Francisco 49ers so curious. Why would the Niners have used a second-round selection on a player who either doesn’t fit into their system or they had no idea how to use?
During his rookie season of 2012, James was unable to make a dent in the roster until Kendall Hunter was lost for the year late in the season. James was inserted into the lineup as Frank Gore‘s primary backup, and he responded by playing well over seven games (including the playoffs). James ran the ball 38 times for 190 yards and scored a touchdown in the NFC Championship. James also excelled as a kick returner, averaging 29.8 yards a return in the regular season.
James had done enough to deserve more playing time in 2013, but a sprained knee he suffered in the last preseason game set him back. When he returned, he found himself the odd man out in both the backfield and return game. James would eventually overtake the ineffective Kyle Williams as the team’s primary kick and punt returner, but he was unable to get any kind of significant action at running back. He only carried the ball 12 times all season and gained 59 yards.
It’s not as if James has played poorly when given the chance so it’s unclear why the 49ers have been so hesitant to use him. This is a player who San Francisco gave the ball to on a first-and-goal in the closing moments of the Super Bowl. What is clear is the fact that the 49ers are ready to part ways with James as he is now reportedly on the trading block.
James’ situation is one of the few failures of the Jim Harbaugh era. He is a talented runner who, if given the opportunity, has proven he can make plays. While he may not fit the team’s power running approach, it’s offensive coordinator Greg Roman‘s job to adjust his scheme to fit his player’s talents. They could have installed a few packages a game to take advantage of James and the mismatches he could create.
As the 49ers search for a trade partner, they will most likely find out that they won’t receive much in return for James and he could be dealt for a late-round pick at best. For the team that acquires him, however, they could end up with a steal. If given the opportunity in the right system, James still has the talent to make an impact in the league.