Big Jim Harbaugh has some tough choices to make this offseason. One of those paramount decisions will be deciding the time share issue between Lamichael James and Kendall Hunter, and believe me when I say that this will be a very tough decision. Let's analyze the factors in play on what could determine who sees the bulk of carries when Frank Gore takes a play off.
Both runners are coined as change of pace backs -- someone that can come in and make the defense play to what the offense is dictating. Both do this extremely well, and both seem to understand that they have the ability to spread the field. The 49ers run very hard up the gut of the field, and nobody thrives on the HB Dive play more than Frank Gore. A good thing for the 49ers as a whole, but it does make the prodding along a little more difficult for Hunter and James. They are seen as these change of pace backs, which allows defenses to assume that the 49ers offensive line will be pressing to set the edge to get one of these elusive backs into the space they need to use their creativity. It can shorten the field and force the 49ers to become basic in their formations. One of these backs has to become better as an every down guy. It's hard to say which one of them can take a bigger beating (running up the middle, blocking, receiving balls in the flat can all damage a back), but with Hunter coming off of a severe achilles injury, I'll give the initial nod to Lamichael James.
It's all about the X Factor in the star ridden NFL, and if you can't separate yourself from others by having this quality, you could find yourself in the CFL in no time. Both runners have proven themselves within the small window that has been their playing time, and both should only get better with more field time. The X Factor, the moment where one needs to show his gumption, seems to be shining bright within Lamichael James. It's hard for me to say that Hunter can't be even better or just as good in these situations, but the ability that James showed in dramatic moments (Last year's playoffs) has me leaning, again, towards him.
The last contributory area where we can dissect both of these special talents side by side is special teams. Both have served as kick returners and as punt returners while wearing the Red and Gold, and both have done well. There just simply isn't enough statistical data out there to compare these two based off of their body of work, but Hunter has the better YPA on kick returns. Small nod to Hunter for now, but I do envision James becoming a much more integral part of kick returns with the departure of Teddy Ginn.
Hunter and James are both quality NFL types and both would thrive elsewhere. For now, they'll have to settle for some good old competition to see who deserves the carries that Frankie loses to age. Nothing but love for Hunter, but I see our future being filled by the speedy Oregon Duck. Where do you stand Red and Gold Nation? Let's get some feedback !!!
Sean McMahon is an avid sports fan and 49ers purist. He can be reached at his blog @nothingbutgold.sportsblog.com or via email @firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks !!!