The 2013 season is a wrap for the San Francisco 49ers, but before we take the deep dive into free agency and look ahead to 2014, we're going to take an initial look at that season that was for each position group. Yesterday, we took a look at the quarterback position, which is dominated by one guy. Today, we'll look at the running back position. One guy dominated, but the story is about so much more.
Frank Gore - 16 games | 276 rushes, 1128 yards (4.1), 9 touchdowns, 3 fumbles lost | 16 receptions, 141 receiving yards | DYAR: 89 (20th), DVOA: -1.0% (24th) | PFF: 12.1, -3.7 pass, 4.5 rush, 9.3 pass block, 0.5 penalty
The San Francisco 49ers have drafted multiple running backs in recent years, and yet, Frank Gore remains the bell cow back. Matt Maiocco put together a rundown of offensive snap count information, and as he pointed out, Gore played the second highest percentage of offensive snaps in his career. In 2006 he played 77 percent of total offensive snaps. In 2013, he played in 75 percent of all offensive snaps.
I don't think we need to know that to know the team relied heavily on Gore, but it's still worth a mention. Since 2010, the 49ers have drafted Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Marcus Lattimore, and signed Jewel Hampton as an undrafted free agent. After years of wanting to be the go-to guy at all times, Gore has become a bit more accepting, but there are still instances where it's clear he thinks he's the guy to get the job done.
Gore only had three 100-yard games this season, and at times it felt like a season of extremes. He average 2.1 yards against the Packers in Week 1, and 1.8 against the Seahawks in Week 2, and then he followed that up by averaging 7.5 yards per carry against the Colts in Week 3.
And that Colts brought forth much of our frustration. Gore was absolutely rolling in the first half, with nine carries for 70 yards. Then in the second half, he rushed the ball three times for 12 yards on the opening drive, and then never ran again. The 49ers were down 10-7, and other than a few runs between Colin Kaepernick and Kendall Hunter, the team just abandoned the run. I get it when the team found themselves down 20-7 late in the fourth quarter, but it was a one possession game until midway through that quarter. What gives?
Frank Gore has slowed down as he gets older, but there were also times where the play-calling seemed to betray the 49ers ground game. We'll have more specific All-22 on this. We know he's slowing down, but will it be enough to completely cut ties with him or will Gore and the 49ers be able to work out a deal for another year or two?
2014 status: Final year of contract - Base: $3,300,000, Cap: $6,450,000
Kendall Hunter - 16 games | 78 rushes, 358 yards (4.6), 3 touchdowns, 1 fumble lost | 2 receptions, 13 yards | PFF: 0.4, -1.3 pass, 1.4 rush, 0.3 pass block, 0.0 penalty
Through the first season and a half of his career, Kendall Hunter was looking he could develop into a very solid complement to Frank Gore. In his rookie season, he rushed 112 times for 473 yards (4.2 ypc). Midway through 11 games into his second season, he was on pace for a similar number of carries, but he was averaging an extra yard per carry. After years of looking, the 49ers had their complement.
And then Hunter tore his Achilles. His season was cut short and he had to begin the grueling rehab. The rehab process was a success and Hunter came back averaging 4.6 yards per carry in his third season. And yet, he only got 78 carries on the season. He didn't have many huge moments, but he seemed effective.
He is entering the final year of his contract, and I really have no idea what the 49ers plan is moving forward. Marcus Lattimore is the name on everybody's lips, but where does Hunter fit into the equation? I don't think 2013 gave us much in the way of a clue.
2014 status: Final year of rookie contract - Base: $645,000, Cap: $754,805
LaMichael James - games | 12 rushes, 59 yards (4.9) | 2 receptions, 16 yards | PFF: -0.5, -0.2 pass, -0.4 rush, 0.0 remaining
We will discuss LMJ's special teams contributions later, but for now we'll focus on his work on offense; his very limited work on offense. Through the first eight games, James had seven carries in two of them. He had a great performance in limited work against the Houston Texans in Week 5, rushing four times for 31 yards, but he didn't touch the ball again on offense until Week 10. Over the final eight games of the regular season, James had five rushes for 28 yards, and two caches for 16 yards.
The use, or lack thereof, of LaMichael James has been a source of constant frustration. He brings a certain speed in space that Gore and Hunter lacked. Gore and Hunter can make plays, but when James gets in space, he can do some crazy things. Unfortunately we rarely got to see it. And of course sometimes he was a spinning machine that got shut down. On the offensive side of things, it was an overall disappointing 2013. It is particularly disappointing given the decent sized workload he got to close out the 2012 season behind Frank Gore.
2014 status: Second to last season on rookie contract - Base: $641,718, Cap: $905,154
Bruce Miler - 14 games | 7 rushes 13 yards | 25 receptions, 243 yards, 1 touchdown | PFF: 8.0, -0.5 pass, -0.3 rush, 1.0 pass block, 6.5 run block, 0.8 penalty
The 49ers fullback has been solid since his rookie year, but 2013 felt like a bit of a breakout year for Miller. He has always been a solid blocker, but he became a key cog in the passing game while Michael Crabtree was sidelined. Prior to Crabtree's return, Miller was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards. He was the guy Kap would find underneath when Boldin and Davis were covered. It wasn't pretty at times, but Miller was able to make plays.
Unfortunately, Miller went down with a fractured scapula in Week 15. Will Tukuafu and Anthony Dixon did solid work in his place, but it would have been nice to see a full playoff run with Miller in at fullback. He should be at 100 percent for the offseason program as he is reportedly back to light workouts.
2014 status: Last season on rookie contract - Base: $1,389,000, Cap: $1,404,614
Anthony Dixon - 16 games | 28 rushes, 56 yards | 3 receptions, 30 yards | PFF: -1.1, 0.4 pass, -2.3 rush, 0.2 pass block, 0.5 run block, 0.1 penalty
Every year we think Anthony Dixon is out the door, and every year thus far he has hung around. He spent much of the 2013 season providing his usual strong work on special teams, but he also got some additional opportunities on offense. He got mop-up work during the 49ers five-game winning streak in the middle of the season, but he also worked as a short-yardage option.
His biggest opportunity came when Miller fractured his scapula. Will Tukuafu was generally the starter at fullback, but Dixon got his share of work as well, including a starting nod in Week 17 against the Arizona Cardinals. Now, for the first time, Dixon enters free agency. He has stuck around thus far while under contract, but it will be interesting to see if someone thinks he can be a big part of a platoon, or if he will be viewed primarily in the context of his 49ers days.
2014 status: Unrestricted free agent
Will Tukuafu - 2 games (24 snaps) | PFF: 0.9, -1.1 pass block, 2.0 run block
The 49ers brought back Tukuafu after Miller went down with his injury. It was a very strong run for Tukuafu, who looked great in a blocking role. He injured his knee early in the divisional round game against the Carolina Panthers, but he worked his way back for the NFC Championship Game.
2014 status: Restricted free agent
Marcus Lattimore - Non-Football Injury list
It's easy to get excited about Lattimore's potential in 2014 and beyond. He was drafted with the intent of remaining on the NFI list throughout his rookie season. He essentially red-shirted the year. He got some practice time late in the year under NFI rules, but then was shelved the rest of the way. He has said he felt he could have played if necessary, but he also has said he understands what the 49ers are doing.
Jim Harbaugh has said he expects Lattimore ready for OTAs, so the offseason at running back will be particularly interesting. The 49ers have to figure out what to do with Frank Gore and his $6.45 million in salary and bonuses. If they keep him and don't deal Hunter or James (and let Dixon walk), suddenly you've got four running backs and only so many carries. What exactly is the plan?
2014 status: Base $495,000, Cap: $570,146
Jewel Hampton - Practice Squad
And let's not forget this guy. The 49ers signed Hampton as an undrafted free agent in 2012. He spent much of the season on the NFI list, but then was activated to the 53-man roster late in the season. The 49ers obviously like him, but as I said above, what exactly is the plan given the depth at running back? He could end up back on the practice squad, and barring something crazy happening elsewhere, I expect that to be what the 49ers try and do.
2014 status: Reserve/Future contract