Frank Gore. USA TODAY Sports Images.

Frank Gore. USA TODAY Sports Images.

49er’s Log Jam at Running Back

Al Sacco
Mar 1, 2013 at 10:10 AM12

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The San Francisco 49ers have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL. Included in their embarrassment of riches is a stable of capable and explosive running backs that give Jim Harbaugh and his staff the ability do a lot of different things in the running game. Greg Roman is very creative in designing plays for his backs and with the best offensive line in the game, there isn't much they can't do on the ground. The addition on Colin Kaepernick to the starting lineup only added another dimension to this already versatile group. The only issue going into 2013 is whether or not there will be enough footballs to go around. The 49ers pretty much use two running backs in their game plans. Frank Gore is obviously the lead back. Kendall Hunter was outstanding spelling him until he was injured late last year. LaMichael James showed he could be a play maker when he stepped in at the end of last season. So how will this situation play out in 2013? Here is a look at the roster below.

The Stable: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon

The Wildcards: Colin Kaepernick, player to be named later

Frank Gore: Gore has been the face of the 49er's offense since 2005. The franchise's all time leading rusher, Gore has been remarkably consistent his whole career. He has also been remarkably durable during the Harbaugh era, playing all 32 games (37 counting the playoffs). But Gore only has so much left in he tank. He will enter the 2013 season at 30 years old. 30 is usually when you start to see running backs take a step back although Gore has shown no signs of that. His stats over two seasons in Greg Roman's offense have been almost identical. 1,211 yards rushing with 8 touchdowns in 2011. 1,214 yards rushing with 8 touchdowns in 2012. Gore did carry the ball less in 2012 than he did in 2011 (282 in '11 to 258 in '12) and did respond with higher yards per carry (4.7 in '12 opposed to 4.3 in '11). Limiting Gore's workload paid off as he average 106 yards on the ground in the playoffs and scored 4 rushing touchdowns. But the 49ers have to start preparing for life without Gore soon. They should still be able to get one more good season out of him but expect his carries to dip yet again.

Kendall Hunter: Hunter has the ability to be a feature back in the NFL. His playing time is limited (he averaged 7 carries a game in '11 and 6.5 in '12) but he has showed the ability to a consistent back that can gain big chunks of yardage. His yards per carry average jumped from 4.2 in 2011 to 5.2 in 2012 before an injury against the Saints ended his season. If healthy, Hunter could be the lead back as early as 2014. The 49ers will always diversify in their running game with multiple backs but expect Hunter to continue to grow in this offense. Even though Gore's carries will continue to decrease, Hunter will probably still only carry the ball 6 or 7 times a game. This is because of the emergence of...

LaMichael James: James could not even see the field until Hunter went down. This was not for lack of talent as he showed once he got his opportunity. He skill set fits very well with a Colin Kapernick led offense and he could thrive in the pistol over a full season. But he will only be a role player in this offense. In 2012, he carried the ball 27 times over 4 games for 125 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and continued to contribute in the playoffs with 11 carries for 65 yards and a touchdown. Expect more of the same in 2013 where he touches the ball 4 or 5 times out of the backfield. That's not to say the 49ers can't get creative when using him and find multiple packages to utilize his skills. He will also see action on special teams returning kicks.

Anthony Dixon: Dixon (if still on the team) would be primarily a special teams player. He only gets an occasional carry and won't be able to crack the lineup with Gore, Hunter, and James ahead of him.

Colin Kaepernick: Kaepernick is a passer. The 49ers want him to be their franchise quarterback for the next decade and will not put his health in jeopardy by designing run after run for him. That's not to say he won't get his carries but I see most of his yards coming off of broken plays. However, one would think the team will use his running ability here and there when it could change the game or keep the defense on its heals. He will be a big factor in the red zone and the team will benefit because he will always be a threat to take off. Still, even if limited, Kaep could eat into carries for Gore, Hunter and James, especially in the before mentioned red zone.

Player to be named later: With Gore nearing the end of the line and Hunter coming off an injury, I think the 49ers might take a flyer on a running back in the draft and "red shirt" him for a year. Marcus Lattimore out of South Carolina is a real possibility in the mid rounds. The 49ers could stash him away for a year while he recovers from his knee injury with hopes of him playing a major role in 2014.

Al Sacco
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Frank
    That lack of DL and pass rushing depth was neatly addressed in the just concluded draft. Tank Carradine will be a beast DE under DL Coach Jim Tomsula's coaching. Huge DL Quintin Dial is raw, but at 6-5 @ 320, with quickness and versatility, he could develop into a real force. Those two coupled with FA Dorsey gives Fangio/Harbaugh a lot more flexibility to form a viable rotation that will keep the starters much fresher. Corey Lemonier has some serious pass rushing skills...and at 6-3, 255 should provide a potential bookend rusher opposite Aldon Smith.
    Apr 28, 2013 at 2:53 PM
  • Darkness777
    How could the 49ers Roster be so Damn Complete when they played 2 Defensive Starters with major injuries in the playoffs & the Superbowl? They believed the Media driven Hype that they had Depth when they mostly had UDFA & Crap behind the Defensive Starters!! They need to Upgrade their whole team with Quality Talent behind the Starters!! Players that can Start right NOW!! They have 14 picks too do so!! After the hole in your Defense & a #1 WR for your Offense a young Stud that has Speed, Hands, Height & Athleticism perferrably Justin Hunter or Da'Rick Rogers or Marcus Davis???
    Mar 25, 2013 at 11:13 AM
    Response: They need help at defensive line/OLB but overall the 49ers have a deep squad. You can't be stacked at every single place in the salary cap era. Having said that, their inability to replace injured OLB's (i.e. Haralson) and not having someone to keep McDonald and Smith fresh at the end of the season may have been their downfall.
  • MauiMike
    I would love to see us take a flyer on a player like Lattimore. If not for his injury history, I have no doubt he would be the first running back selected in the upcoming draft. That being said, I also wouldn't mind us taking a chance on a player like Montee Ball or Stefan Taylor. I know they didn't blow anybody's minds at the combine with eye popping numbers but there is something to be said for production in games and just flat out being a good football player. You don't get in the endzone that many times by accident.
    Mar 3, 2013 at 4:29 AM
  • Roy Prasad
    "there isn't much they can't do on the ground" Umm, get 7 yards in 4 plays to win a Superbowl, perhaps?!
    Mar 2, 2013 at 2:26 PM
    Response: That's a whole different!
  • Mr. G
    You forgot Bruce Miller. They need to add a bruiser. If they had one, they might have won the Super Bowl. Le'Veon Bell from Michigan State would be a good late round pick.
    Mar 2, 2013 at 7:37 AM
    Response: Was only concentrating on running backs but, yeah, have to love what Miller has done. Bell could be a guy to take a flyer on late. They have enough picks to takes some chances on a lot of different positions
  • Mike k
    Love the Lattamore thought, and so would he. Rd 6? Don't Forget Hampton...could be a Jewel. Who is the go to receiver? Who besides Gore, can pass block?
    Mar 2, 2013 at 6:51 AM
    Response: That's what makes Gore so valuable. He is good at everything. Even though his reception totals are down under Harbaugh he is still a very good receiver. James intrigues me as far as what he can do with the ball in space. I left Hampton off because, again, who on this list can he steal carries from? Don't see how he can crack the lineup unless 2 of Gore, James, Hunter go down.
  • Rascal
    I have always been of the opinion that we need a legit power back. We already have enough small guys with speed in Kendall and LaMike. I would love to see a big power type guy like Marshawn Lynch and Steven Jackson. Are there anyone with that kind of size and power in the draft ?
    Mar 2, 2013 at 3:03 AM
    Response: I think they tried to have that with jacobs. I trust frank gore to get the short yardage as much as anybody
  • Matt
    Jewel Hampton is also still on the roster, is he not?
    Mar 1, 2013 at 10:49 PM
    Response: He is as far as I know but I don't see him as being a factor given the players above. If there's an injury though, who knows?
  • RobertDodd
    I was born and raised in California but live in Charleston, SC now. Lattimore is a great running back and loved teammate. He really fits the mold of a JH player. He would be a fantastic project because, when healthy, he is a game changing, every down back that can carry the torch when Gore is ready to set it down.
    Mar 1, 2013 at 2:37 PM
    Response: I'm definitely intrigued by Lattimore. With all those picks, why not take a shot on someone like him?
  • russsalmon
    I understand that Hunter tore his achilles tendon. Is he expected to be the same player after such a serious injury ? Any word on his progress?
    Mar 1, 2013 at 12:40 PM
    Response: From all I've read he's expected to make a full recovery. You never know with running backs and injuries like that though. Hopefully he'll have the same burst
  • space cowboy
    Just a long shot, how about Stefhon Jefferson from Nevada, an explosive back that can be threat outside or explosive between the tackles. He knows the pistol offense.
    Mar 1, 2013 at 12:13 PM
    Response: I think the only way they draft a running back is if its a developmental guy or someone they can "red shirt" like Lattimore. Otherwise they would waste away on the roster (barring injury). Gore, Hunter and James are all too good for someone else to come in and take one of their spots.
  • Spee
    Jewell Hampton
    Mar 1, 2013 at 10:20 AM
    Response: I like him too but unless he can play special teams (or there's an injury) I don't see how he can crack the lineup.

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