By Justin Bradford
The 49ers don’t have many immediate needs to fill from the 2013 draft later this month. Today we’ll focus on running backs. Since the 49ers have two fullbacks, and Anthony Dixon has filled in as an additional option, the 49ers will likely not look at fullbacks this year. In fact, as a whole, a running back will be a luxury pick for the 49ers.
Current roster: RB: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon, Jewel Hampton
FB: Bruce Miller, Will Tukuafu (also a DT)
Status: The 49ers have a strong running back roster. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter each have two seasons left under contract while LaMichael James has three. Jewell Hampton spent much of last season on the practice squad until Kendall Hunter tore his Achilles tendon and Brandon Jacobs was suspended and released. Hampton is built like and has a very similar style to Frank Gore.
He could see a small number of carries this year. Dixon is playing his final year on his current contract, and holds most of his value as a special teams contributor and short yardage power back. He lacks Gore’s cutting ability and doesn’t project to be a starting RB. The most expendable players are Hampton and Dixon. If the 49ers don’t feel those two don’t have a future with the team beyond the 2013 season, they could look for a later round RB as a potential replacement for Frank Gore.
Bruce Miller is a very versatile FB and has cemented himself as the starter. Don’t look for that to change unless he suffers an injury. Will Tukuafu filled in for special packages and blocks very well for a defensive lineman. Dixon also shared time with Tukuafu while Miller suffered a short term injury.
Draft Possibilities: This years draft is deep in RBs in the late rounds. Some very interesting prospects that the 49ers could target are Stefphon Jefferson from Nevada, Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina, and Rex Burkhead from Nebraska.
Jefferson (5’11” 213lbs) was in Chris Ault’s pistol offense at Nevada and will transition easily into the 49ers offense. He’s also shown great ability to pick up blitzes. He also hasn’t taken too much abuse in college, which should add to his longevity.
Lattimore going to the 49ers appears to be a common theme amongst draft analysts. That’s because he has tremendous upside if he can recover fully from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last season. If he sits out his rookie season, as LaMichael James nearly did, Lattimore would be fully healthy for 2014 ready to take the NFL by storm.
That is one reason why many analysts are projecting San Francisco as a potential luxury pick for the 49ers. Lattimore could easily be a first round pick had his health not been in question. At his size (6’0” 218 lbs), Lattimore could be the feature back within his first two years on the NFL.
Burkhead is another player recovering from injuries sustained last season. Burkhead is a very strong back (5’10” 214 lbs), but had a weak showing at the combine. The 49ers could take a risk on him in the late rounds if Jefferson and Lattimore are not available. Watching him run for Nebraska in 2012 was like watching Frank Gore while he was in Miami. Burkhead could be a real asset. His biggest concern is his ability to stay healthy.