Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
The running-back spot is arguably the most intriguing position on the 49ers team going into training camp.
Few spots on the roster are filled with as much talent as the key role in the backfield, and the battle to earn playing time behind incumbent Frank Gore promises to be an extremely competitive one.
Competing to effectively become the No. 2 behind Gore are Kendall Hunter, Carlos Hyde, Marcus Lattimore and James, although the latter will, as has already been mentioned, likely be limited to special teams snaps again in 2014.
Lattimore, who has bravely fought his way back from two serious knee injuries sustained in college, has been placed on the non-football injury list for the start of camp, leaving Hunter and Hyde as the favorites to be the primary reserve.
With three seasons of strong performances in relief of Gore under his belt, Hunter perhaps has the inside track to continue as the deputy for the 49ers' all-time leading rusher.
However, Hyde—taken in the second round by San Francisco—has a frightening skill set and is the perfect player to be Gore's heir apparent.
A powerful and determined back, Hyde excels in between the tackles, finishes runs and also has the capability to catch passes out of the backfield and be a factor in the aerial attack.
Despite totaling 1,000 rushing yards or more in seven of his last eight seasons, there have been signs that the 31-year-old Gore is slowing down.
Hyde could help extend Gore's time at the top by eating into his carries and saving the veteran's legs.
But the drop off in Gore's workload could be even more dramatic than most expect, with ESPN.com's John Clayton indicating that he may see 50 fewer carries in 2014.
That would potentially give Hyde—who racked up over 1,500 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns in his final season at Ohio State despite missing the first three games because of a suspension—a huge chance to make an impression at the highest level.
And, given his record of outstanding production at the collegiate level and the Niners' dedication to the running game, expect Hyde to make the most of his prospective opportunity and leave Gore watching from the sidelines more and more often.
Note: NFL statistics courtesy of NFL.com and collegiate statistics courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise stated.
Nicholas McGee is a San Francisco 49ers Featured Columnist based in Leeds, England. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasmcgee24.