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.
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.