San Francisco 49ers’ running back LaMichael James was one of the nation’s most explosive collegiate players for the prolific Oregon Ducks from 2009 to 2011. High expectations surrounded James when the 49ers selected him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. But since then, he has received limited playing time partially due to injuries and partially because the 49ers are very deep at the running back position. James has expressed his frustration over his status on the team because he just wants to play. He has shown in the past that he can do so very well, when given the opportunity. When will he get that opportunity with the 49ers?
As a Duck, James compiled some impressive statistics. In 2009, he rushed for 1,546 yards and 14 touchdowns. Next in 2010, he gained 1,731 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. In 2011, his final season as a Duck, James ran for 1,805 yards and 18 touchdowns. Despite missing the first game of the 2010 season for a suspension, he still led the NCAA in rushing yards that year and was a finalist for the Heisman trophy. One of James’ best athletic attributes, his tremendous speed, led him to become the career rushing leader for the Ducks. During a game between the Ducks and California in 2011, ESPN radar recorded James running 24 mph on a 53-yard touchdown. At the 2012 NFL combine, he also recorded a 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash.
When the 49ers drafted him in the second round of the 2012 draft, James likely expected to put that speed to good use. So why hasn’t he? One of the few remaining members of the 49ers’ 2012 draft class, James has obvious value for the team but they have not used him much, either as a running back or on special teams as a punt/kick returner. Overall, he has 34 carries for 156 yards in his NFL career so far. In 2013, he has just 7 carries for 31 yards, but was injured with a sprained MCL for the first few games of the season.
When asked about James, 49ers’ general manager Trent Baalke has said the team very much wants to get James in the mix but it is difficult due to the 49ers’ depth at his position. Running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are locked in at #1 and #2. Anthony Dixon is often the #3 back because he has special teams value. As a result, James is typically left out of the equation, as he has been the last two games. The 49ers can only carry so many active players and unfortunately James gets the raw end of that deal. If the team truly values what James brings to the table, they should find a way to get him involved in the offense. Perhaps that will start on Sunday in London against the 0-7 Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sara DeBord is an NFL writer for www.footballandfutbol.com and www.baysportsreport.com.