October 27, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore (21) rushes for a touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers in the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

2013 NFL Draft: Why Trading RB Kendall Hunter Makes Sense For 49ers

Nov 19, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter (32) celebrates after scoring on a 14-yard touchdown run in the second quarter as Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte (47) and linebacker Nick Roach (53) watch at Candlestick Park. The 49ers defeated the Bears 32-7. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

The unwritten rule is that a player should not lose his role due to injury. Well, we all saw what happened to QB Alex Smith, and now the same thing may happen to RB Kendall Hunter. The third-year veteran may be on the trading block after RB LaMichael James burst onto the scene in his absence. You may remember, James a second-round draft pick, did not get his opportunity until the 14th week of the regular season against the Miami Dolphins. Since then, James has been a more valuable asset due to his versatility as a return man on special teams, leaving me to wonder, why keep both of them?

For one, they are a different breed of a running back. Hunter is a down hill runner able to get to the outside, while James is more of a scat-back suited for the pistol formation. The only similarity is their small stature in terms of height, as Hunter is 5’7″ and James is 5’9″. Both players play very low to the ground, making it hard for tacklers to put a hat on them. Although both players provide an insurance policy to RB Frank Gore as a complimentary 1-2 punch, one of them is expendable and should be gone.

November 19, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter (32) is pushed out of bounds by Chicago Bears free safety Chris Conte (47) after running for a six yard gain in the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Also, Hunter is young, which provides great value for a team looking for a running back. There is no running back in this year’s draft worthy of a first-round grade, outside of RB Marcus Lattimore, despite his injuries. But other than that, good luck. This bodes well for the 49ers who can play this in their favor. Some teams needing a running back include the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and Pittsburgh Steelers. I purposely wiped out teams like the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals, as they would be direct competition playing in the NFC. However, those AFC teams mentioned would all be in the market for a player like Hunter.

So if a trading suitor does arise, what can the 49ers expect to get in return for his services? Most likely a third-round draft choice in the 2013 NFL Draft or a 2014 second-round pick. A great way for the 49ers to pick up another draft pick, while trading away a player that would not be able to contribute the way he did in his first couple of years. If the 49ers strike a deal, look for them to find RB Frank Gore’s eventual replacement as RB Le’Veon Bell (Michigan St.) and Lattimore (South Carolina) would all be great options.

Call me crazy, but I believe in a crowded back field, it does not make much sense to keep three quality running backs on the roster. Especially, when Hunter’s value is higher than normal due to a weak running back draft class.


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Tags: 2013 NFL Draft Kendall Hunter LaMichael James Marcus Lattimore NFL Draft San Francisco 49ers

  • JimHarbaughsguys

    This is lunacy.

    James replaced Hunter only due to injury. And while I like James, he is nothing close to Hunter.

    James fumbled a few times in his short time as a 2nd string RB. He didn’t burst out with a huge play at any point covering 60 or so yards, like Hunter did in Philly in 2011 on a play which really helped our huge comeback win.

    Plus the Niners are strongest OL blocking wise when they run up the middle. Hunter is by far superior to James at running up the middle. He is by far the superior blocker among the 2 at picking up the blitz. The only thing James does which Hunter does not is return kicks. But even then, James didn’t pry away all the return duties from Ted Ginn.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback. However, I tend to disagree. James can turn nothing into something just look at the game film against the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots (which James returned a kickoff 62 yards) to set-up the go-ahead touchdown to Michael Crabtree on the following play. I do agree that Hunter is a better back between the tackles and better blocker in pass coverage, but with the 49ers transitioning to the pistol, James is the better fit, in my opinion. James is also a better receiver which is vital in the West Coast offense. I’m not saying Hunter is not a solid back, because he is. All I’m saying is I think that a trade would make sense if they do decide to go that route.

      • JimHarbaughsguys

        Those plays you point out were ST plays. Not RB plays. Kyle Williams, had quite a few nice returns as well before he was injured. And if you plan on having a running QB, you better have a really good blocking RB who can save your QB from the blitz. Because your QB will be taking more hits in the open field vs. a more drop back type QB won’t take those hits (he’ll dump it off, or throw it away). If your RB isn’t saving the QB in the pocket and your QB is running all around on other plays, he won’t be for long. He’ll be on the sidelines.

        • Ryan Sakamoto

          Exactly my point, James made a special play on special teams. Thus, he adds more value as a football player. I agree you need a running back that can pick up a blitz, and that is why they have Gore.

  • dawgman

    I dont think James is better than Hunter.Hunter at 5.2 yards per carry. Right now coming off of injury in my opinion will be a hard sell for a team to want to trade for i think its time to let go Dixon and keep both But James will have to stay on special teams for now.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback. Hunter will be a hard sell but with a weak running back class, don’t be surprised if a team like the Bengals picks him up.

  • Ramon Suarez

    You can NEVER have too many RBs. I like the versatility of our corps. Gore as the primary back, Hunter as the change of pace, LMJ as an all purpose scatback, and Dixon as the short yard/goaline back.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      I agree Ramon. But the question remains, can we keep all four happy? There’s only so many balls to go around. We shall see.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.maslowski.3 Mark Maslowski

    Wait… you want to trade a young, quality running back to get a draft pick to select a young, quality running back? Not sure I understand the logic. With needs elsewhere, RB is the last thing the Niners should be addressing. I’m fine with what we have.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback Mark. That’s absolutely correct, in the long run Hunter and James will not be able to co-exist as a formidable 1-2 punch once Gore retires. Just like the Warriors when they had Steph Curry and Monta Ellis in the backcourt, they were both good, but something had to give. I believe that Marcus Lattimore should be the pick in Round 3, as he is better suited to be an every down back.

  • patchel

    You don’t trade a kid coming off of an Achilies tear. His value is at an all time low, you would be lucky to get a 6th round pick for him. No one knows if he is going to regain his explosion and burst. Bit of advice, don’t buy high, trade low, it is poor strategy in the long run.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback Andrew. Although, I agree with your statement, take a look at Adrian Peterson. He proved doubters wrong and with Rex Ryan on the hot seat, you can be sure he would take a player of Hunter’s caliber in a heartbeat.

  • Lelandmatrix

    By the time gore retirees Hunter will be ready to take over as the starter. I don’t think we trade. I think we sign him to a cheap extension before he becomes a starter. we don’t need anyone draft pick there isn’t enough room on the roster for the ones we got.

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback.

  • http://www.points2shop.com/s/wii_points?ref=tony21502 thetony

    No way!!! I would get rid of James before Hunter… Hunter is our guy and james is a return specialist… LMJ just doesnt have the skill at rb that hunter has…

    • Ryan Sakamoto

      Thank you for the feedback Tony! It will be interesting to see how everything plays out.

  • Steve

    Seriously? LMJ, the same guy that fumbled in scoring position during the SB that was a big contributing factoring in us losing the title? What did you see from LMJ that would make him a “quality running back”? The guy played 7 games last year and his numbers are certainly nothing to write home about especially behind one of the best offense lines in the league. I agree he is a decent return option – god knows after Kyle Williams, we needed someone but a quality option to be a full time backup behind Gore? I completely disagree. Also, what would SF do with another 3rd round pick this year???