Able as both a ball carrier and a receiver, Hunter has the potential to open up the 49er offense and push Frank Gore-weary defenses past the brink.
Here are five reasons the 49ers should be calling Hunter’s number more often.
Frank Gore has taken a pounding while spearheading the 49ers’ running attack.
He has shrugged off ankle and knee injuries in recent weeks, but the Niners would do well to spell him as the regular season winds down.
Getting Hunter more involved will give Gore a chance to return to health and San Francisco an opportunity to make a deep run into the playoffs.
Gore can get outside, but his main strength is up the middle. Hunter, on the other hand, is a swift and deceptive outside runner.
On his 17-yard touchdown against the New York Giants, Hunter broke off left tackle and sprinted past defenders to the left corner of the end zone.
His longest run of the season, a 44-yarder against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, came on a sweep where he cut up the left sideline, breaking tackles and leaving two Bucs grasping at air.
Having Hunter as an outside threat will spread defenses, leaving them vulnerable to the 49ers’ punishing inside game.
Hunter’s seven receptions this season have averaged 15.1 yards, with four first downs.
As a possession receiver out of the backfield, he can add another threat to a strong receiving corps that already features Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards, among others.
Hunter has absorbed his share of injuries, most notably in his junior year at Oklahoma State, and in high school when he had a metal plate inserted into his ankle.
Consider his sophomore and senior college seasons, however, when he put together 512 combined rushes for more than 3,100 yards (and forget he’s 5’7” and 199 pounds).
Through 11 weeks in his rookie NFL season, he’s carried only 69 times; that’s just a warm-up compared with his previous workloads.
In a long and revealing preseason profile, Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle saw a player who refused to quit as a high-schooler after doctors told him his severe ankle break meant the end of his career.
He fought back from injuries at Oklahoma State to post a stellar senior season, even though doubters in the NFL made it possible for the Niners to pick him up in the fourth round.
He’s mentally and physically tough—and ready to give more whenever the 49ers call on him.