LaMichael James. Just hearing his name still brings back nostalgic memories of a college player who rushed for 6.6 yards per carry and scored an impressive 53 touchdowns in three short years with Chip Kelly at Oregon. These stats are enough to bolster any offense, even if you ignore the fact that he caught the ball at least once a game(on average) averaging over 11 yards a reception. This is great for very well timed, useful first downs when needed.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t translated quite so well to the NFL. 4.4 yards per attempt, but no more than a couple carries a game. Is this by design? Is this because of talent around him on the roster? Certainly Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter could be keeping the ball out of this talented youngsters hands. Not to mention that this year, when Anthony Dixon gets the ball, he certainly looks like a runner with a more impressive pedigree. As a unit, Gore, Hunter, Dixon and James round out a very talented RB core for the San Francisco 49ers. In the absence of rushing touches, a 49ers weakness has turned into a resurging strength. Special teams had taken an unfortunate turn this year. The departure of Ted Ginn Jr. to the Carolina Panthers was an unfortunate blow for the 49ers. Kyle Williams took over return duties, and just never seemed to take to the role. During that time, the 49ers led the NFL in fair catches. Not what you want to see when a team is making a run for the playoffs and getting healthier every week. Last Sunday against a very good Seattle Seahawks team, James helped the 49ers average 27 yards per return attempt on kickoffs, and 16.3 yards per return on punts.
Long story short, Special Teams play is a very important part of every game plan. Each phase of the game must be executed well when playing difficult opponents, and with the playoffs looming and the road to the Superbowl looking like it inevitably goes through Century Link Field, solid play in every phase must be executed. LaMichael James helps the 49ers increase the talent at a much needed position, at just the right time.