San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter made the most of every snap he received in 2012, rushing for 371 yards and two touchdowns on just 71 carries before suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon tear in Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints. The 5.2 yards per carry Hunter averaged last season was a full yard higher than what he accounted for his rookie year and tops among all running backs in Red and Gold.
Though he is already back to running and is expected to be ready for training camp, Hunter will again be forced to fight for carries despite his proven ability to do great things with the pigskin in his grasp. Frank Gore, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, is fully capable of another 1,000-yard season, and LaMichael James emerged as a threat out of the backfield after Hunter’s injury, so he should be in line for some touches in 2013 as well.
Not to mention, the addition of Anquan Boldin to the receiving corps and abilities of Colin Kaepernick both as a runner and passer will likely limit Hunter’s touches as well. It’s kind of shocking, really, because the Oklahoma State product is talented enough to garner 200 carries or more per year if he were to be lining up in a backfield for a team without such an abundance of explosive offensive options.
That said, if Hunter can return to his usually productive self and continue to progress as a player, he can’t be kept on the sidelines for too long. The 24-year-old is entering just his third NFL season and has already looked the part of a feature back at times, possessing a unique blend of speed, vision and elusiveness comparable to Gore—the man he sits behind on the depth chart.
It’s also possible he could handle some kick return duties depending on how things play out in camp.
It’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out, but if Hunter can indeed recover in full (there’s little reason to believe he can’t), you can bet he’ll become a major contributor during another promising season in 2013, one the 49ers fully intend on finishing with a win rather than a heartbreaking defeat.