The San Francisco 49ers running back situation has been scaring off fantasy owners for a few months now and not without reason. Kendall Hunter looked to be the heir to the SF ground game, but GM Trent Baalke and Coach Harbaugh decided to draft LaMichael James during the offseason and pick up Brandon Jacobs (funny, they already had a horrible power back in Dixon). James is a nice addition to the NFL’s 4th ranked rushing offense, but it doesn’t do dynasty owners any favors. Frank Gore is sure to lose some touches and every update I’ve read says to expect fewer carries for Mr. Gore. That’s expected and not really anything that a Dynasty owner is losing sleep over. We want to know what happens AFTER Gore.
LaMichael James (5’8”, 194lbs) was taken in the 2nd round of this year’s draft. Like most SF draft picks, he has been receiving praise from Harbaugh and Balke (who like to talk up their draft picks). Harbaugh said that James has 4 down potential, stating, “He’s proven he’s a multi-down back in our eyes.” James is fast. James was electric in college. But what in the world has he done to prove that he’s a multi-down back in the NFL? I like him as a prospect, but everyone is over-reacting to his signing and how it impacts the value of Kendall Hunter. James is a speed back who greatly benefited from the offensive scheme at Oregon. He will be valuable and he does have tremendous upside in PPR leagues, but let’s not forget about Hunter.
I’ve read comments in articles and on numerous forums that indicate owners are shying away from owning or trading for Hunter. NONSENSE! Kendall Hunter is going to be a great player and James isn’t going to take his place in the SF pecking order. As impressive as James’ college numbers are, they aren’t THAT much better than Hunter’s. Hunter finished up 4th all-time in rushing at Oklahoma State (not bad company, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas), but he wasn’t the heralded draft pick that James was because he didn’t play in a new uniform every week and play in as many nationally televised games. Drafting James is NOT an indictment of Hunter’s ability, Hunter PROVED himself last year; it’s just a case of Harbaugh falling in love with a guy he knew a lot about and not being able to pass up the value. It was a good pick. James is valuable, but that doesn’t mean that Hunter is worthless.
Hunter was also dismissed because of his measureables, namely his 5’7” frame and 200lb check in at the combine. Most fantasy analysts doubted his ability to carry a full workload and labeled him as ‘change of pace back.’ Let me ask you something, does this guy look like he can’t handle a full workload? Hunter has almost identical measurements as Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew when they came out and is only about 8 pounds lighter than Jones-Drew. I’m not saying that Hunter is Ray Rice, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him reach that level at some point (Harbaugh has even compared Hunter to Rice). Baalke and Harbaugh are no strangers to heaping praise on their own picks and they gave Hunter the same treatment last year. Per Trent Baalke, “We’re not looking at him as a change-of-pace back. We think he’s a four-down back. He can run the power game, he can get to the edge, he can catch a ball out of the backfield, he can pass-protect.” Sound familiar? There is a lot of noise that has to be filtered during the offseason and you have to take these camp reports with a grain of salt. The next time you read a comment from Matt Maiocco saying that SF sees Hunter as a COP back, take a deep breath. This is the same guy who predicted that Hunter wouldn’t pass Dixon on the depth chart last year. Hunter’s 2011 carries? 112. Dixons? 29.
Kendall Hunter is going to continue benefiting from Frank Gore’s decreased workload and will serve as his eventual replacement. LaMichael James will have a role, but it won’t be as a lead back. Whatever RBBC eventually develops in SF, you can bet that Hunter will be the ‘primary’ back. Hunter is still very much a valuable dynasty asset. Those of you that are in rebuilding projects should attempt to acquire the Hunter/James duo. Thank me later.