There has been talk that the San Francisco 49ers are shopping LaMichael James. James was an explosive runner in college at the University of Oregon under head coach Chip Kelly. But since he was drafted by the 49ers, he has been nothing but underwhelming. Some say it is because he doesn’t have a skillset that translates to the NFL, while others say it’s because the 49ers haven’t been utilizing him properly.
Regardless of why, his lack of production coupled with a stacked depth chart (Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde) likely mean he has seen his last days in San Francisco. So looking at the more recent running back trades, what should the 49ers expect in return if they move James?
In two seasons with the 49ers, James has only accumulated 184 yards on 39 carries with zero touchdowns. This is extremely unimpressive to say the least, and with his lack of carries, it certainly begs the question: has he not been given a chance to prove himself, or has he been so unimpressive in the chances he’s gotten, the 49ers don’t want to give him any more?
Whatever the answer is, potential trade partners will be using his lack of production as a way to get him for less. They will also use recent running back trades as precedent.
Let’s start by looking at the most recent trading of a running back — the Philadelphia Eagles trading Bryce Brown to the Buffalo Bills. The Eagles were able to swap seventh-round draft picks in 2014 (moving up 13 spots in that round) and get either a fourth-round pick in 2015, a third-round pick in 2016, or a fourth-round pick in 2016.
Brown has two seasons in the NFL over which he accumulated 878 yards and six touchdowns on 190 carries. Last season, with Chip Kelly, he carried the ball only 75 times for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The trade before that (possibly causing the Brown trade) was the New Orleans Saints trading Darren Sproles to the Eagles for a 2014 fourth-round pick. Sproles has been in the league for eight seasons, averaging 5.1 yards per rushing attempt with 11 career rushing touchdowns. Sproles brings more to the table than just running the ball, as defenses have to account for his receiving too. He has accumulated 3,381 receiving yards with 27 total receiving touchdowns.
Another recent trade (you might even be able to call this one theft) was the Cleveland Browns trading Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first round pick. After being traded, Richardson ran for 458 yards on 157 carries (a staggering 2.9 yards per carry) with three touchdowns in 14 games. Considering Richardson was only in his second year, no matter how good his rookie season was with the Browns, it couldn’t have warranted a first-round pick.
This is especially true since he’s a running back, and in today’s NFL, the running back position is one that is much more interchangeable than it has been in the past.
So, looking at all of these recent running back trades, what might the 49ers be able to get for James? If they can convince the Colts to trade with them, they might be able to walk away with a second-rounder. Otherwise, since he has considerably less production than any of the aforementioned running backs, they’re most likely looking at just getting a very late round pick (sixth or seventh-round).
What might be better is if they package him in with another trade to sweeten the deal for the other team. Other than that, James has very little value unless the 49ers do an amazing sell job on his potential based on his collegiate career.