SF niners

Written by Sal Conti                                      Follow on Twitter: @SC2_DFW

Frank Gore is ‘the guy’ in San Fran but,his contract expires in 2 seasons and he isn’t getting any more durable or younger. Luckily for San Francisco, backup RB LaMichael James is an electric back that, in my mind, is ready to carry the load whenever he’s needed to.

Marcus Lattimore, former South Carolina RB, is also now wearing crimson and gold. Lattimore was a dominant player in his freshman and sophomore seasons, but two major knee operations abruptly ended his college career.

Kendall Hunter may be given some touches during the middle and end portions of the season, but he is still recovering from a torn knee ligament.

As a dynasty owner, how do we handle the 49ers backfield? What’s the fantasy outlook for Frank Gore, LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter and Marcus Lattimore for this year and the next few to come? How should you handle them as fantasy football owners?

Let’s peer into that 49ers depth chart.

Frank Gore

Gore is the undisputed starter in San Francisco for right now. While he has gotten injured numerous times in the past, he’s an ox between the tackles and has been in the upper echelon of the NFL’s RBs for a few years now. He ran for 1214 yards last season with a 4.7 YPC average, one of the better marks in the league.

However, he’s 30 now, he’s pushing 10 years in the league and his style of play is a bit too old-school to run the inside zone read play, the bread and butter of the Niners’ offense. Gore can carry defenders and run north and south, but he isn’t very explosive in his cuts and he lacks elite top end speed required to make the Inside Zone a lethal play.

If I owned him in a keeper league, I’d sell high immediately. While Gore has one or two high RB2/ low end RB1 caliber years left in him, LaMichael James is a much better fit for the Niners offense; I’ll go into further detail on that point later on.

LaMichael James

This kid is solid gold in the open field. Maybe the most lethal back in the NFL not named Adrian Peterson in term of explosiveness in his cuts. He can turn a loss of 3 yards into a 4 yard gain with a simple wiggle and shake past defenders.

James can also handle the rock in between the tackles. He averaged around 6.5 YPC when running up the middle or off the right tackle. But let’s also give credit to his offensive line; the Niners’ interior OL is one of the best in the NFL. For a young running back, he sees the hole very well. Besides, there’s no hole too small for James, thanks to his quickness.

Another reason to like James’ fit into the SF offense is his ability to catch passes and grab chunks of yards on each play. One of the more common plays to run in an offense that focuses around the Zone Read is the screen pass. You saw Kaepernick run this play often this past season. All he had to do was flick the ball over to the RB in the flat. From there, the RB uses his speed, cuts and agility to create yardage. Creating yardage is what James is best at.

James’ only problem is that he’s stuck behind Gore barring injury for as long as Gore stays in San Fran. He also could benefit from running with a lower pad level and more strength. Durability is the name of the game when it comes down to playing RB in the NFL.

If by some chace James is available in your league, pick him up NOW. If/when Frank Gore gets hurt, James is the man. He’s a threat to score whenever he’s in the open field. Buy low now. In a couple of seasons, we could be looking at a solid, starting NFL running back.

Marcus Lattimore

This is where this topic gets interesting.

Lattimore was phenomenal at South Carolina. He played like an All-American from his very first game in his freshman year. While he isn’t a speedster, he made some BEAUTIFUL cuts; his vision is unprecedented among other running backs in his draft class. Work ethic is yet another forte for Lattimore.

Unfortunately, TWO major knee surgeries have really halted Lattimore’s career. While the intangibles are there with the experience of dominating the college level, durability is, obviously, a major concern. Marcus cited that NFL backs Frank Gore, Willis McGahee and Adrian Peterson have all come back from major knee injuries to have lengthy and productive careers. If Lattimore’s work ethic continues to be as good as advertised, he could find himself back to full health soon, dominating the NFL competition within a few years.

That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lattimore doesn’t see the field at all in 2013 simply because he doesn’t need to. The 49ers have a healthy passing game, a solid starting running back and an electric backup running back. Lattimore needs to work hard to rehab his knee, and by the time the 2014 or 2015 season rolls around, we the people will see how good he could really be in the NFL.

If you have empty spots on your roster than you know FOR SURE you won’t need, then pick up Lattimore. Just don’t expect any sort of production for at least a season.

Kendall Hunter

Hunter has recently began cutting again, according to Roto World. This is a good sign, as he can now participate even further in RB workouts two months ahead of summer camp. Kendall Hunter was the main backup to Frank Gore before he went down with a torn Achilles.

I’m a strong believer that Hunter will have his 2nd string position man-handled from him by LaMichael. I would hold out on Hunter right now. If he is indeed named the backup, I’d keep him as a handcuff to Frank Gore only.