In the early afternoon of Saturday, Adam Schefter of ESPN broke the news on Twitter that San Francisco 49ers running back Kendall Hunter sustained a torn ACL on Friday during training camp. This will likely keep Hunter out for the entire season, which happens to be a contract year for him. With Hunter missing the 2014 season, what does this mean for the 49ers at the running back position?
Hunter’s injury doesn’t change the fact that Frank Gore is going to be the featured back. Nothing besides an injury to Gore himself was going to change that. But this does have a ripple affect down the depth chart. The 49ers will now most likely ask rookie Carlos Hyde to take more carries than they had originally planned. The same thing goes for Marcus Lattimore. Both young backs will need to take more carries than they had anticipated.
The running back this has the biggest effect on is LaMichael James. Before the injury to Hunter, there was a good chance James wasn’t going to even make the roster. The 49ers barely used him at running back, 13 carries for the entire season including the playoffs, and when they started to use him as their return specialist, he was merely average at that. While he did more than just fair catch the ball like their former return man Kyle Williams did and he had good ball security, he still didn’t show that explosiveness and big play ability he showed on a weekly basis when he played at the University of Oregon.
So, with an extra spot at running back on the roster, the 49ers can afford to keep James on the roster as a return specialist if rookie Bruce Ellington doesn’t work out this season and as added depth at running back in case of injury. Or, in the case of Lattimore, re-injury. If James doesn’t prove his worth this season, you can bet he won’t make it to his contract season with the 49ers.