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San Francisco 49ers: Why LaMichael James Is Key to San Francisco’s Playoff Run


Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For the first time on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers unleashed their secret weapon: LaMichael James.

James, a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2012 NFL Draft, saw his first action after an injury sidelined Kendall Hunter and Brandon Jacobs failed to do an amazing job in limited action, boosting him up on the depth chart.

And, if James continues to run well, he will be the number two running back on the depth chart, behind only injury prone Frank Gore.

The speedy running back out of Oregon picked up 30 yards on eight carries, but he showed that he is capable of having success in the NFL. He’s always had spectacular breakaway speed, and he knows when to burst through a hole.

We saw the same thing on Sunday that we did at Oregon. James exploded through holes, and he did a nice job, even on busted plays. He broke some tackles, protected the ball, and did all he could. There were some busted plays, but James didn’t try and cut back, which would have most likely led to losing more yards. Instead, he just took the loss and let Colin Kaepernick do his thing.

Oh, and he also had two double-digit runs, three if you include one negated by a holding penalty. Not bad for an NFL debut, right? Right.

James went up against the ninth-best rushing defense in the league in Miami, and he will have to face two run defenses inside the top 10 in Seattle and New England (in the next two weeks). So, if James does get more chances to spark the 49ers, he will have to do it against more solid run defenses.

But he’s definitely more than capable.

Gore is obviously the first-string running back, and he had another good game Sunday, tying the franchise record for touchdowns, passing 1,000 yards for the sixth straight season, and running for 63 yards on 12 carries while catching two passes for 22 yards.

However, James throws a whole new challenge at the defense. Gore isn’t huge, but he is known for barreling through a defense and breaking tackles, without exceptional breakaway speed. James, on the other hand, has good vision and great speed.

Brandon Jacobs, who was suspended, was similar to Gore, except for the fact that he’s a bruising back who fumbles sometimes. James brings a whole new element to the San Francisco running game, and he adds one more problem to the defense.

James is explosive, and he is always a big-play threat. Gore is going to get the majority of the carries, but if something happens to him or when Gore needs a rest, James can shake up the offense, and he has the ability to change a game.

And, if he gets a chance, he will change a game.