Frank Gore needs a new running mate in San Fran

      November 29, 2012 @ 12:17:20 PDT

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Boy, the San Francisco 49ers really are changin' these days. Well, on offense, that is. Jim Harbaugh announced in his presser yesterday that they'll move forward with Colin Kaepernick as their starter for the third straight week as they face the St. Louis Rams in Week 13.

San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore
More for Gore?

This time, Alex Smith (concussion) is fully healthy. It's unclear if Smith will re-enter the picture if CK finally struggles. But if you landed Kaepernick on the wire, start him if you got him. After all, he's got the hot hand. Ride it.

Aside from the major shift at QB, running back is in line for the emergence of some new faces after Kendall Hunter tore his Achilles'. On roster, the Niners have several options not named Frank Gore: Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon, LaMichael James and Jewel Hampton.

Gore is having a fine season, and he'll continue to be the lead back as far as touches are concerned. He's on pace to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his eight seasons, and he's averaging 5.2 yard per carry, which is the second best mark in his career.

Perhaps the reason for Gore's productive year was their focus on mixing in a change-of-pace back (Hunter) in order to help Gore shoulder the load. While he remains an obvious focal point of the O, Gore hasn't been relied on nearly as much as he has in previous campaigns.

With Hunter out, San Fran will be looking to continue along that same path. Most NFL teams prefer flexibility, deception and versatility in the running game as a whole these days in favor of a one-dimensional, yet diverse lead horse. Gore used to be that guy, but the 49ers don't want to become too predictable.

Kaepernick opens up the offense and creates more headaches for the opposition than Smith ever could, which is one of the reasons why he's supplanted the former starter on an injury alone. They'd like to mimic that approach in relation to their backup RB.

So who will become Gore's main complement in the backfield for the remaining five games and for a playoff run? The answer isn't clearcut, and the options likely won't jump out off the page in terms of fantasy production.

As Kevin Kurz notes, the remaining backs in the Niners' stable haven't seen much work at all this year; Dixon has the most action with 12 carries for 48 yards. Jacobs, the former New York Giants bruiser, had his first carry of the year last week against New Orleans. Jewel Hampton was just activated off the Non-Football Injury list, so you can count him out.

San Francisco 49ers RB LaMichael James
James has the upside

LaMichael James, the former Oregon product, hasn't played at all, yet he is probably the most intriguing. Not only is his upside much higher than that of Jacobs or Dixon, James' style is much more similar to the man he may replace (Hunter).

Another thing in James' favor to be the second back behind Gore: The fact that Kaepernick and James ran similar offenses in college at Nevada and Oregon respectively. James is familiar with the zone-read offense that Harbaugh has employed with Kaepernick under center, and the two ran plays together effectively in the preseason.

However, it could prove difficult for James to make an impact after not being active at all this season. The bright side is that Jacobs - the man he'll most likely battle for touches behind Gore - has only one more touch on the season than James.

Based off the way Harbaugh has divulged his plans recently, don't expect to gain any clarification on roles behind Gore, though, meaning you're probably taking a shot in the dark by going after James. Either way, James is the better target in deeper leagues.

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About Keith Hernandez

Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.

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