Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Is LaMichael James going overlooked in 2013? Find out in preseason.
In a constricted rookie debut, James averaged 6.8-plus yards per carry in three of only five games played. The 49ers won all three of those contests and he even scored his first career touchdown in one. In the regular season and postseason, James cumulatively racked up 230 yards of total offense on just 43 touches.
It was a campaign defined by vivid glimpses of home run ability—just a very small sample size to draw from.
Moreover, seeing as how James is a late second rounder from last year that did not get a ton of playing time as rookie, he has continued to go overlooked by the casual NFL fan. Plus, with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter currently locked in ahead of him on the depth chart, even the verified Twitter pundits doubt how many touches he will truly get on game day.
This is a huge mistake—not just for fantasy footballers, but for opponents game-planning to play San Francisco. Truth be told, James is such a dynamic weapon that it is going to force the 49ers to be proactive in scheming facets of the offense and special teams around his masterful abilities.
In 2013, he projects to function as the primary in certain personnel groupings and packages, using specific route patterns and run designs that cater to his strengths as a perimeter threat and live wire in space.
With his rare explosiveness and persona as a big-play threat, the hotfooted runner from Oregon could be in line for a featured role right now. The 49ers will likely optimize his total production by deploying James as their primary outside back, featured zone-read weapon, option receiver and return specialist.
At a training camp press conference in Santa Clara, Calif., ‘Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media that James is due to make a quantum leap from his rookie to sophomore year, via 49ers.com:
Great improvement. Vast improvement from one year to the next. You talk about it, and you say that usually players from the end of their first year to the start of their second year have the chance to make the greatest amount of gains that they'll ever have in their career. Just like college players who are freshman that go from their freshman year to their sophomore year. LaMichael's a real, living example, current example of that. And it's noticeable in all areas.
He's improved his technique, his base, in terms of pass protection. His knowledge of the scheme. Great improvement in his vertical running, his insert between the tackle. Running, his returning, the way he catches punts and kickoffs now, you look at him as a trusted agent back there to field punts and kickoffs.
The most notable takeaway here is that the team is looking to him as the primary return man.
James showed great ability fielding kickoffs in 2012, finishing with 14 returns for 417 yards (29.8 YPR). Though he was limited on tries, this average still ranked him third in the NFL behind players that had 15-plus returns, trailing only Percy Harvin (35.9) and Jacoby Jones (30.7).
The most noteworthy return by James came in Week 15 at Foxborough, where he returned a 62-yarder in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown versus the New England Patriots. He could have a very big year, but since he is down the depth chart, he will likely see a good amount of preseason action.
The 2013 exhibition will provide a great sneak-peek as to the player LaMichael James will become.
Directly Affects: RB, Kendall Hunter