The San Francisco 49ers' crowded backfield just got a whole lot more crowded. With their second pick in the draft, they took Oregon running back LaMichael James, a guy they apparently had their eye on, given the hints from Jed York on Twitter prior to the 49ers actually being on the clock. Which is comparable to what they did with their first round pick, Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who Trent Baalke knew the team was going to get on Wednesday night, before the draft even began.
That being said, let's take a look at the running back position as it stands:
Starter: Frank Gore
Change of Pace: Kendall Hunter
Backup: Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon
Fullback: Bruce Miller
Backup Fullback: Rock Cartwright
That's six running backs even without James, who comes in with a skillset somewhere in between Hunter and Gore. Right now, the 49ers only know one thing: Gore is the starter. Unfortunately, Gore won't be able to be the starter forever, and the 49ers don't seem to have his replacement on the roster. That could be where James comes in, really.
Hunter was picked in the fourth round last year, and the 49ers are very excited about what he can do. But he's more of a Darren Sproles kind of guy and likely can't be the bell cow of the offense, so his role as change-of-pace certainly seems safe. James brings in a similar skillset, but the 49ers wouldn't have invested so highly if they were simply looking to replace their change-of-pace guy.
No, Hunter is safe. It's as simple as that. The guys on standby will be Jacobs and Dixon, who need to show that they can be something. Jacobs will need to show he's still got "it", while Dixon needs to prove there was a reason he was drafted at all. Jacobs may have an "in" for the final roster if the 49ers really want to diversify and keep him for goal line situations.
James certainly makes things very interesting, at this point. He might take some carries from Hunter, but he won't take his job. There was a lot of hype surrounding him at Oregon, but also a lot of detractors who claim it was the scheme that led to his success. We'll see, and it'll probably be at the expense of Jacobs or Dixon.