"He's doing Percy Harvin-like things," this is what a 49ers starter had to say about James' work on the scout team. Permission to read too much into this? Okay, no problem. This is why James was drafted by 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 one as the general consensus from most scouts was that he was an interesting day two 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 OTA's 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 Manningham to be a role player and an insurance policy, and 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 3rd 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 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 TE 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 one has future Hall of Famer written all over him, Aldon Smith. That said, even Smith saw limited snaps in year one. 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 pick ups 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.