If the 49ers want to maneuver higher in next month’s draft, they could offer another team multiple draft picks in return or they could offer a team picks and a player. That player? According to a league source, the 49ers have been shopping running back LaMichael James, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft.
James ran for 5,082 yards and scored 53 rushing touchdowns while at Oregon. However, he has had only scant work as a runner with the 49ers and finds himself behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and perhaps Marcus Lattimore on the depth chart at running back this season.
James served as the team’s primary returner last season and performed well in that role, averaging nearly 11 yards a punt return. But the source said James has made it clear to the team he wants a bigger role as running back as well. He carried the ball 12 times in the 2013 regular season and once in the playoffs. He missed the first three games because of a knee injury.
The 49ers spent a long time looking at possible return men in free agency. The team considered a number of then-free agents, including Julian Edelman, Dexter McCluster, Golden Tate and DeSean Jackson, who have experience as punt returners.
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Asked in February if he was shopping James, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said, “No discussions. LaMichael is a 49er. He’ll continue to be a 49er.”
“It’s tough,” Baalke said at the time of James’ role on offense. “There are certain game plans where LaMichael was meant to play a little bit bigger role than he ended up playing, but that’s the game. Every game you go in with a plan and sometimes that plan changes based on what you’re seeing and what the other team is doing. So you’ve got to be flexible. It’s up to LaMichael and it’s up to every player. We tell every one of our players this: ‘It’s up to you to earn time on the field.’ So it’s not as much about what he hasn’t been doing, it’s as much about what Frank has been doing.”
Meanwhile, the 49ers are bringing in at least three running backs for predraft visits. Towson’s Terrance West is one of the busiest players in the run-up to the draft, and his itinerary will take him to Santa Clara on Monday. West has a total of 11 visits scheduled this month, including with the Seahawks this week.
West was the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year, and he led the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing with 2,519 yards and 41 touchdowns. At 5-foot-9, 225 pounds, he also is the third workhorse-style running back the 49ers will have brought in for a predraft visit. They also met with Central Florida running back Storm Johnson and Terrance Cobb of the University of the Cumberlands (Kentucky) on Monday and Tuesday.
The 49ers have some insider information on Cobb. He is the younger brother of regional scout Reggie Cobb, who was a good running back when he played in the NFL for the Buccaneers, Packers, Jaguars and Jets. The elder Cobb serves as the 49ers’ Western region scout.
As for possible trade partners for James, the Eagles seemed like a realistic destination considering coach Chip Kelly was James’ coach at Oregon and that the man who scouted James for the 49ers, Tom Gamble, is now with the Eagles organization. Philadelphia, however, traded for running back Darren Sproles last month.