49ers draft outlook: Running backs

49ers draft outlook: Running backs
April 22, 2013, 7:30 am
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South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore tore ligaments in his right knee against Tennessee in October. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Frank Gore, who turns 30 next month, did not slow down last year from a production standpoint.

Gore has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons -- his two highest totals since his team-record-breaking 1,695 yards in 2006, his second year in the NFL.

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The 49ers had one of the league's top ground games in 2012, ranking fourth in rushing yards per game (155.7) and third with a 5.1-yard average. It did not hurt that the 49ers have a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who can chew up huge amounts of yards on the ground. The running back will continue to be a huge part of this team's offense because of a young and powerful offensive line.

The 49ers always want to have a stable of running backs and general Trent Baalke intimates that a shift to more of a backs-by-committee approach could be in the team's future.

"I'm a big believer -- we are big believers -- in a three-headed approach," Baalke said last week. "In other words, having a group of backs that bring to the table something a little bit different than the other one so you can do a lot of different things. But also having those backs be able to do enough things the same so you don't become so predictable on game day."

Kendall Hunter returns from season-ending surgery to repair a partially torn Achilles tendon. He is expected to be ready for the opening of training camp to resume his job as Gore's primary backup. LaMichael James was also an effective runner when he became the backup to Gore after Hunter's injury.

Who's here: Frank Gore, Bruce Miller, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton, Will Tukuafu

Draft needs: There is not an immediate need at this position with Gore, Hunter and James. Anthony Dixon has the flexibility to play both halfback and fullback. And the 49ers like Jewel Hampton (5 foot 9, 210 pounds), an undrafted rookie last season, who was promoted to the 53-man roster after 11 weeks to open the season on the non-football injury list due to offseason surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot.

Good fits: Because the 49ers have no immediate need, it would make sense for the team to invest one of their 13 draft picks in a player who could pay dividends in future seasons. The player who immediately comes to mind is Marcus Lattimore (South Carolina). The 49ers were represented at his pro day, in which he did not sprint or jump. He is still rehabbing a devastating knee injury he sustained last season. In three seasons of college, he averaged 4.8 yards and rushed for 38 touchdowns. Lattimore also caught 74 passes. Whichever team selects Lattimore (5 foot 11 1/4, 221 pounds) should not expect much -- if any -- contribution his rookie season. That should not be a concern for the 49ers, who would be building depth at this position for a time when Gore is no longer around.

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