When it comes to personnel at the running back position, the San Francisco 49ers are absolutely stacked for 2012.
The unsung hero, or player given the least amount of publicity in the group, is Kendall Hunter.
The second-year man returns in 2012 after a very productive campaign last year. He rushed for 473 yards and two touchdowns at a strong 4.2-yards-per-carry average. He also added 195 receiving yards to his output.
These are underrated numbers for a rookie playing second fiddle to the every-down RB Frank Gore, a player through which so much of the 49ers offense runs.
Moving forward, the 2012 season promises a huge rise in production out of Hunter for the Red and Gold faithful.
Some might declare this a bold notion considering that there are only so many touches to go around to the stable of Niner backs that also includes LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs.
In my mind, however, it only seems appropriate that Hunter’s knowledge of and continuity with Jim Harbaugh’s system will facilitate his increased workload.
Gore—as much as he’ll remain a focal point of the offense—faded down the stretch last year and will see a reduction in carries this year. And as running backs coach Tom Rathman indicated, he’ll play less on an overall basis in order to remain an impact player.
Jacobs will come in on short-yardage/goal-line situations, while James will be featured in the red zone and various sub packages.
Hunter, though, will carry the rock in more of a three-down fashion, aided by his versatility in the passing game and in creative run formations. I believe he’ll prove himself capable in pass protection to counteract the only major hindrance to his increased playing time. (Matt Maiocco discusses this necessity for all backs outside of Gore.)
To the Hunter naysayers, I’ll also say that his 5’7’’, 199-pound stature is an entirely misleading and overrated knock against the former Cowboy. He accumulated more than 240 carries, 1,500-plus yards and 16 TDs in two seasons at Oklahoma State. He can carry the load.
And that is exactly what he’ll do for the most part in 2012.
Opposing defenses are in for a rough assignment.