Friday - Apr 26, 2019

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San Francisco’s New Toys

“He’s
doing Percy
Harvin
-like things.” This is what a San Francisco 49ers starter had to say
about LaMichael James’ work on the scout team. Permission to read too much
into this? Okay, no problem. This is why James was drafted by coach Jim
Harbaugh. The 49ers have a strong offensive line, a power running game,
and talent in the passing game, but they do not have that dynamic multi-purpose
player in space like the previously mentioned Harvin, Darren
Sproles
or Randall
Cobb
. This is James’ role. He’ll never be confused with a between
the tackles bruiser, but there are not many players in the league as electric
in the open field as him, and it was only a matter of time before he got his
shot.

A.J.
Jenkins
was a surprise pick at the end of Round 1 as the general consensus
from most scouts was that he was an interesting Day 2 target that has some Greg
Jennings
potential in him. The 49ers kicked conventional wisdom to the
curb and got their guy because they wanted him. He did not have a strong
offseason as reports ran wild about him being out of shape during organized
team activities and in training camp, but all along Harbaugh has stood by his
man, and now he’s getting his chance. The table was set for Jenkins to
have a job to open 2013 as Randy
Moss
is only on a one-year deal, the 49ers signed Mario Manningham to be a
role player and an insurance policy, and Michael Crabtree is amidst the
prove-it year in his contract. Crabtree has likely earned a job back with
the team, but Moss is all but gone and the 49ers will give Jenkins every
opportunity to move Manningham to the third wide receiver. They didn’t
intend to put that plan into motion until September, but an opportunity has
opened sooner than expected.

Both of them are getting their respective opportunities now for the same reason
Colin Kaepernick got his – the guy in front of them got hurt. Kyle
Williams
tore his ACL and Kendall
Hunter
tore his achilles on the same play on a hit delivered by San
Francisco favorite, Jonathan
Vilma
. Before getting side tracked, conventional wisdom around the
fantasy community has Frank
Gore
seeing an increased workload and the 49ers going to more two tight end
sets in passing situations rather than utilizing the Kyle
Williams
role. Before the explosion of Kaepernick, I would not have
argued that take, but his rise has shed a whole new light on player development
under Harbaugh.

Harbaugh’s philosophy on development is quite simply not to rush the issue. The
only one of his drafted players to see significant playing time in Year 1 has
future Hall of Famer written all over him, Aldon
Smith
. That said, even Smith saw limited snaps in Year 1. He did most
of his damage in a strictly passing down only role, which makes his rookie
production all the more remarkable. 

In a
win-now culture in the NFL, Harbaugh trusts his system and talent evaluation
enough to not force the issue with any of his youth. He’s going to stay
patient with them, and when an opportunity becomes available and he feels
confident they’re ready, he is going to let them take off. No on-the-job
training or trial by fire, just go. It’s a welcome change in this
unfortunately short-sighted league and a philosophy that will eventually by
copied, like so many other takes in this league. Until that happens,
advantage Harbaugh.

I don’t recommend picking either James or Jenkins up to save your 2012 season.
In James’ case he is an interesting stash for keeper leagues in which you lose
the draft pick spent to acquire them and you can keep free agent pickups for
late picks. However, the buying window for dynasty owners has all but
closed, but, just like before Kaepernick’s first start, there’s still a crack
in the window. Get in now before it slams shut.

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