Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the San Francisco 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
The San Francisco 49ers have built up an incredibly deep stable of running backs over the last few years, and it appears to only be getting better with the addition of Marcus Lattimore. However, the 49ers have another running back flying under the radar that will be worth at least a bit of a look in training camp.
The 49ers signed D.J. Harper as an undrafted free agent out of Boise State after this year's draft. The former Bronco spent a significant amount of time in Boise, getting in six years due to various injuries during his career. Harper tore his left ACL in 2009, and then re-tore it in 2010. He received a medical redshirt and got a sixth year of eligibility. He is one of the few players in this year's rookie class to have played at least one college game every year since 2007. It's kinda crazy.
After the back-to-back injury years, Harper was healthy in 2011 and the primary backup to 2012 first round pick Doug Martin. During that season he rushed 115 times for 557 yards and nine touchdowns. He took over the starting role in his final senior season, and was a strong workhorse for the Broncos, rushing 228 times for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Harper joins what is a relatively short group of running backs in the 49ers backfield. Frank Gore and LaMichael James both stand 5'9, and Kendall Hunter is 5'7. However, Gore and Hunter bring serious power to the table, while James has a strong combination of speed and athleticism. In looking over some D.J. Harper scouting reports, power might be an issue for him. Harper is not slow (4.46 40), but he is not LaMichael James. On the other hand, while appears to have more size than Hunter, the reports seem to indicate he is more comfortable trying to bounce runs outside.
Here are some scouting reports for your perusal:
What to expect in 2013
His roster odds seem pretty slim, although it is possible he could surprise and leap-frog Jewel Hampton on the depth chart. Those two will combine with Anthony Dixon for competition at the fourth running back spot. And given that Dixon can also handle fullback duties, it might be down to Hampton vs. Harper. There is no guarantee there is a roster spot available for either of them, but all they can do is outperform the other as a running back and special teams contributor. If Harper did somehow earn a roster spot, he'd do it spending most of his time on special teams, or being inactive.
Odds of making the roster
The running back position is loaded with talent. Harper faces as tough a position battle as anybody on the 49ers roster. If the 49ers kept Jewel Hampton on the 53-man roster, even a practice squad spot would be tough for Harper. He'll need to really impress in practice, particularly since his preseason performances could end up discounted because he will be facing third and fourth string defensive players.