No clear path to playing time for 49ers' James

No clear path to playing time for 49ers' James
January 31, 2014, 11:00 am
Share This Post

LaMichael James has 184 yards on 39 carries over two years with the 49ers. (USATSI)

LaMichael James does not appear to be a good fit with the 49ers, who are built to be a power-running team
Matt Maiocco

LaMichael James, the seldom-used 49ers running back, may or may not want out.

He has claimed in the past that his posts on his verified Twitter account are not about football. Still, it's easy to see that he has been frustrated with his role during his first two seasons after the 49ers made him a second-round draft pick in 2012.

And it's hard to imagine that he's going to work his way into any kind of significant role next season, either.

James was active for 10 games last season. He got his chance when the team decided to cut ties with Kyle Williams as the primary return man. James averaged a respectable 10.9 yards on 23 punt returns, while averaging 26.8 yards on 12 kick returns. He did not lose a fumble.

As a running back, James played just 28 snaps during the regular season as, essentially, the No. 4 running back behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. In two seasons, James has rushed for 184 yards on just 39 attempts.

Among the nine running backs chosen in the first four rounds of the 2012 draft, only St. Louis' Isaiah Pead has produced less with 75 yards rushing in 25 games. Pead was chosen with the No. 50 overall pick, while James was selected No. 61.

James certainly does not appear to be a good fit with the 49ers, who are built to be a power-running team. The 49ers do not believe James has the kind of blazing speed to succeed as solely an outside runner.

The 49ers did not utilize the screen game because those finesse plays do not fit the strengths of the 49ers' offensive line. When the 49ers succeeded with wide-receiver screens late in the season, they did so with tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald getting out front as the blockers.

The 49ers could lean on James for his contribution in the return game again in 2014. But it will continue to be difficult for him to make an impact on offense. Gore and Hunter remain under contract for next season. And the 49ers hope Marcus Lattimore can eventually replace Gore as the every-down back.

So while James' comments on Twitter may or may not have anything to do with football, it seems reasonable to believe he would have an opportunity to make more of an impact with a change of scenery.