The New England Patriots are heading into the 2014 NFL draft with a need at running back, which they could fill by working out a trade with the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers are shopping running back LaMichael James, a league source told The Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows. James was a second-round pick in 2012, but he’s been stuck behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter on the 49ers’ depth chart since being drafted.
James found a role as a return specialist in 2013, but he had just 12 rushing attempts for 59 yards and two catches for 16 yards last season. Given James’ lack of breakout success through two seasons, he could come cheap through a trade.
The Patriots need another receiving threat out of the backfield and a return specialist, since signing veteran Leon Washington didn’t work out last year. Shane Vereen be the third-down back, but the Patriots were forced to use Brandon Bolden in that role last year when Vereen broke his wrist.
James returned 12 kicks for 321 yards and 23 punts for 251 yards in 2013 for the 49ers, and he had 417 yards on 14 kick returns in 2012. He also has experience as a receiver from his time in college at Oregon, catching 51 passes for 586 yards with four touchdowns in three seasons.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound running back played under Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, a friend of Bill Belichick, at Oregon.
James is friends with Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett and Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. James played on the Liberty-Eylau High School football team with Middlebrooks, who was childhood friends with Mallett.
The Patriots have shown interest in free-agent running back Michael Bush, but he remains unsigned. They lost running back LeGarrette Blount to the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.