LaMichael James: Projecting 49ers Rookie's Role After Kendall Hunter's Injury

Phil GCorrespondent INovember 26, 2012

July 29, 2012; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James (23) during training camp at the 49ers practice facility.  Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE
Ed Szczepanski-US PRESSWIRE

The San Francisco 49ers' 31-21 road victory over the New Orleans Saints leaves the Niners with an NFC West division lead (the Seattle Seahawks also lost on Sunday) and in prime position for a possible first-round bye. 

The Niners' success, dating back from last season, can obviously be attributed to their high level of talent and skill, but how about health?

In the last two seasons, the 49ers have been extremely fortunate when it comes to health and keeping their players upright. Some would point to Parys Haralson's injury this season, and rightfully so, but his loss hurt the 49ers' depth more than their overall season.

Unfortunately for the Niners, they experienced two injuries in their victory over the Saints that could open up playing time for the 2012 rookie class, namely A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James. 

Jenkins should get some burn with the injury to Kyle Williams, but the Niners are stocked with depth at the receiver position. 

The same can be said with running back stable. However, with the injury to Kendall Hunter still clouded in mystery, James could play a major role in two areas. 


Kick Returner/Punt Returner

Kyle Williams' injury could open up two spots for James, at both receiver and punt returner. Ted Ginn Jr. is the usual starter, but his muff on Sunday, which led to a New Orleans touchdown, could open up playing time for the dynamic James. 

I'm not sure why James wasn't considered for this position in the first place, especially considering Ginn was consistently injured in the early parts of this season, but Jim Harbaugh must have his reasons. 

James is an explosive athlete in the open field, and he could really spruce up the Niners' return game. 


Third-Down Role

Kendall Hunter was a perfect complement to Frank Gore, and he will surely be missed if his recent injury is deemed serious.  

With Hunter possibly missing some time, some will point to Brandon Jacobs for relief, however, I think Jim Harbaugh goes a different direction. 

Jacobs was primarily signed for goal-line work, and the fact that he hasn't received much playing time in this area is concerning, to say the least. 

I envision Jacobs will get some playing time. However, James is the better fit within this offense. 

With James on the field, he opens up this offense even further. His playmaking ability, especially as a pass catcher, could come in handy on third downs or when Frank Gore needs a breather.

I could be wrong here. And with the way Jim Harbaugh keeps everything close to the vest, I doubt we'll find out anything till game day. Up next, the San Francisco 49ers travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams