It's usually bad news when a rookie lands on a preseason injury list. Fifth-round pick Darius Fleming, for instance, tore his ACL 10 minutes into the 49ers' first rookie minicamp in May, and after being placed on the physically unable to perform list Monday he is unlikely to play this season.
For Jewel Hampton, however, the situation may have a silver lining. The undrafted running back has plenty of potential, but in joining the 49ers in April, he went to a team with an already loaded backfield. The players currently at the position and probably ahead of Hampton on the depth chart: Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Brandon Jacobs, Anthony Dixon and Rock Cartwright.
Hampton was placed on the non-football injury list Monday along with fourth-round draft pick Joe Looney. Both players can be taken off the list at any point, and it appears as if Looney is nearing the end of his rehabilitation from a Lisfranc (foot) injury. If the players remain on the list at the start of the season, they can't play for the first half of the season and run the risk of being shelved for good in 2012.
That may not be such a bad scenario for Hampton, who would have had a tough time making the squad even if he were healthy.
It's unknown what preexisting injury prompted the 49ers to put him on the injury list. He tore both his right and left ACLs while at Iowa, and he did not run at the scouting combine in February because of an ankle injury. (Although he did run at his pro day in March, finishing the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds).
That he received an invitation to the combine speaks to his potential. The 5-8, 218-pound rusher was seen as the heir to Shonn Greene at Iowa before his knee injuries. After transferring to Southern Illinois, he ran for 1,121 yards and a boggling 17 touchdowns last season. His size and running style have drawn comparisons to Baltimore's Ray Rice, and he and receiver Chris Owusu were the 49ers' top hauls when it came to undrafted free agents.
Meanwhile, the 49ers' crowded backfield promises to thin out over time. Jacobs, for instance, is 30 and he signed a one-year deal with San Francisco. Gore turns 30 next season and Cartwright is 32. That is, patience may pay off for Hampton.
-- Matt Barrows