San Francisco 49ers: Is LaMichael James Primed for a Breakout Season?


Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James (23) runs with the ball against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. The 49ers won 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsLaMichael James got to see some playing time towards the end of the year due to an injury to Kendall Hunter and a meltdown by Brandon Jacobs. He proved to be a pretty decent change of pace option from Frank Gore. James showed some promise in a limited role but is he primed for a breakout season in 2013?

James’ biggest positive contributions came on two plays last year. One was a 62 yard kickoff return against the Patriots that setup a 38 yard touchdown catch and run by Michael Crabtree which won the game for the 49ers. The other play was a 15 yard touchdown run in the second quarter on the road against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship. That touchdown seemed to settle down the 49er offense.

The Super Bowl was an opportunity for James to stand out as well. He didn’t get much of an opportunity to shine as he only had three carries. The Baltimore Ravens put up 21 points after a crucial mistake by James. James fumbled while fighting for additional yards. That changed the momentum as the 49ers had driven to the Ravens 24 yard line with the score being 7 – 3.

The 2013 season will give James a chance to bounce back. The running back corps will be a three headed monster with Hunter, James and Frank Gore. Trent Baalke is on record saying that each of them bring a different aspect yet are all able to function similarly within the offense. James brings speed on outside runs. He has put on some weight to be able to run inside but he needs to make sure he hasn’t sacrificed his speed.

An overlooked aspect to his game is the way he can operate on screens and choice routes out of the backfield. If the 49ers can get him matched up against a linebacker he will be able to take advantage of his quickness. James is the kind of player that can do a lot of damage in open space so expect Greg Roman to devise some ways to get him the ball with room to make something happen.

Feb 3, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James (23) against the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY SportsIt will be interesting seeing how he will become a bigger part of the offense. He is surely a match up problem for most linebackers in the NFL. If teams dare to play man against the 49ers it will be necessary to make them pay. They will benefit from Vernon Davis running a clear out to take the safety with him. That will give James plenty of space to do what he does best, make a defender miss.

James’ role in the 49ers offense will be similar to Darren Sproles with the New Orleans Saints. They will have a set package of plays designed to get him a certain amount of touches per game. These plays will give James the chance to take advantage of mismatches.

During the offseason James worked on being more explosive and is looking to make a big contribution. “Any opportunity to get the ball in my hands, I’m all for it – catching the ball, running the ball, punts,” James said. “No matter what it is, I’m all for it. I just want to help the team win any way I can.”

He will benefit from having a full year in the offense as well. “I’m completely comfortable,” James said. “Last year, I wasn’t even here and I didn’t get to do any of this stuff. It’s kind of new for me, too. I’ve been in the offense for a year. I picked it up pretty fast, to my knowledge. Now it’s kind of second nature to me.”

The 2013 season may not be a breakout season for James but he will get the opportunity to make some plays. His major contribution will obviously be from the backfield but don’t be surprised to see him returning punts and kicks as well. Look for LaMichael James to continue to grow with in the 49ers’ offense and be a solid contributor in a rotation of running backs.