San Francisco 49ers: What the Future Holds for LaMichael James

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San Francisco 49ers: What the Future Holds for LaMichael James
Jay Biggerstaff/Associated Press

LaMichael James has finally reported to camp for the San Francisco 49ersvoluntary workouts.  This comes after missing the first few weeks and missing out on a $50,000 workout bonus, which has been read as a sign that James is angling for a trade out of town.

It’s not the first sign that James has wanted out.  It was reported back in April that James was looking for a change of scene and the opportunity to actually play; he only participated in 28 snaps last season.

Looking at the depth chart as it stands now, James doesn’t look poised to earn too many more snaps in 2014, either.  You have the ageless Frank Gore still carrying the load.  Behind him is last year’s No. 2 running back Kendall Hunter, second-round pick Carlos Hyde and the redshirted Marcus Lattimore.  It’s suddenly a very crowded backfield in San Francisco.

Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press
James has not had a chance to see the field much in San Francisco.

James still has some value to the team as a kick returner, as he took over the reins there after Kyle Williams was released in the middle of last season.  However, it seems he’s not satisfied with that role, and would like to move on in 2014.

What could the 49ers get for James?  Probably not a lot; a running back with 184 career rushing yards isn’t going to be lighting up the trade market.  We’re talking a sixth- or seventh-round pick, if that.  It’s more likely that the 49ers would release James, and someone else would pick him up that way.

What are some possible destinations for James, and which teams might be interested in parting with some draft capital to pick him up?  Let’s look at three possibilities:

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Running Backs
DeMarco Murray Pro Bowler in 2013
Lance Dunbar 225 career rush yards
Joseph Randle 164 career rush yards
Ryan Williams Waived by Arizona
Ben Malena Undrafted free agent from Texas A&M


DeMarco Murray is always a health risk at starting running back.  Murray’s missed eight games over the last two seasons with foot and knee injuries.  He’s definitely effective when he’s on the field, but he’s yet to play a full season in the NFL.

Tim Sharp/Associated Press

The list of backs behind Murray isn’t nearly as deep as what San Francisco boasts.  Lance Dunbar did show some promise as a reserve last season, but promise is far from actual production at this point.  The Cowboys aren’t invested enough in any of these players to even make them locks for the roster, much less guaranteed backups.

Scott Linehan, the coordinator of the passing game for the Cowboys, recently said in an interview with ESPN that he likes using running backs in the passing game, pointing to Moe Williams in Minnesota.   James can be that sort of all-purpose back; he had over 500 yards receiving at Oregon.  He’d have a good chance to win that second back role, or at least to come in on third downs.  It’s more work than he’s getting in San Francisco, at any rate.

Baltimore Ravens

Ravens Running Backs
Ray Rice Held to 660 rush yards last season
Bernard Pierce 968 career rush yards
Lorenzo Taliaferro Rookie out of Coastal Carolina
Justin Forsett Cap casualty from Jacksonville
Cierre Wood Picked up from New England's practice squad

Pro Football Reference

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Ray Rice may find himself suspended.

The Ravens find themselves in sudden needs of depth at running back.  Ray Rice may be facing a suspension from the league thanks to charges of aggravated assault, and his on-field production fell off of a cliff last season, anyway.

The primary backup, Bernard Pierce, underwent shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff this offseason.  While it looks like he’ll be ready for training camp, it leaves another question mark in the backfield.

With the Ravens and 49ers holding joint preseason practices this year, Baltimore’s coaching staff will get an up-close-and-personal look at James.  If Rice gets stuck with a long suspension and Pierce’s shoulder acts up on the way to training camp, James would be an intriguing option for the Ravens.

Denver Broncos

Broncos Running Backs
Montee Ball 559 career rush yards
Ronnie Hillman 545 career rush yards
C.J. Anderson 38 career rush yards
Jerodis Williams Waived by Minnesota
Brennan Clay Undrafted free agent from Oklahoma
Kapri Bibbs Undrafted free agent from Colorado State
Juwan Thompson Undrafted free agent from Duke

Pro Football Reference

This pick is more of a shot in the dark, but stay with me for a moment.

You can see that the Broncos don’t have a lot of veteran experience on the roster. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will likely be the top two backs again, but then you have a selection of undrafted free agents to choose from behind them.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

The Broncos are also in win-now mode, meaning they’re more likely to give up future draft picks than a team in a constant state of rebuilding; they need players on the field in 2014 to maximize their championship window with the aging Peyton Manning.

James could be an immediate improvement over Hillman to complement Ball’s more bruising skill set.  James could potentially add more of an offensive explosion to Denver’s backfield.  Working in an offense directed by Peyton Manning, James would be able to get into space very easily and turn on the juice from there.  They like using screen passes; James would be an interesting weapon to add to their loaded offense.

Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers.  Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.

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