San Francisco's running back depth is all over the place right now - that is to say - there is no measurement of exactly how much depth there actually is. At least not yet, but after last night, we have a much better idea of where we stand. Rookie Kendall Hunter lit things up, punctuated with a 53-yard run, seemingly out of nowhere. Everyone had their eyes on Colin Kaepernick (fresh off a couple big completions), and nobody expected the big run to explode across the field, but that's what happened.
You know who Kendall Hunter looked like on that run? Frank Gore.
Gore is the guy who gets to the second level of the defense, and he's so good at finding the hole, that he doesn't need the speed to beat anybody - they never even see where he's going. That's exactly how it was with Hunter in the third quarter against the Raiders. The play started and suddenly, he was running free for the touchdown. It wasn't against the whole starting defense at that point, so you need to make sure to take that into account, but damn was that pretty, or what?
He also simply looked good everywhere else. He had other positive runs and looked good in between the tackles, not dancing around and certainly not hesitating at all. He played with poise, but that's something you expect from your running backs. Hunter's pass protection was also on-point, but I will have to review the film a bit more before I say that definitively. I did only see it on two or three plays, but on at least two of them, he handled the blitzer with almost no issues. Should we expect perfection in that area? No, but it's a definite plus at this point, that's where rookie running backs generally struggle the most. Make the jump for more.
But the running back battle isn't a shutout, simply because Anthony Dixon would not quit. His week one was abysmal and I say that as a huge fan of his. He danced, he hesitated, and he might have even fallen a few times. I'd say his dancing to not-dancing ratio was about 80/20 in week one. In week two, he got that to about the reverse of that. There was a play or two where he did it, and it was extremely frustrating ...
Other plays, though, Dixon looked really good. He's not a huge speed threat, but he found the hole with regularity and actually used some of that evasiveness to his advantage. He did have one good stiff arm at the line of scrimmage, and I hope to see more of that from him - Dixon has a very good stiff arm. Was he better than Hunter? No, but there is one factor to consider:
Dixon played more against starters, and the Raiders have a good defensive line and a good eye for stopping the run. If we call week one a win for Hunter and also week two a win for Hunter, it puts them around even at this point in the preseason, factoring in Dixon's experience and the fact that he's played more against starters. That is to say, coming into this, Dixon is higher on the depth chart, but Hunter is running more impressively. The burden of proof, if you will, for Hunter to show that he belongs above Dixon. At any rate, it was exciting to see more than just one running back getting the job done, as Gore, Hunter and Dixon all looked capable against strong competition.
There's also the matter of Xavier Omon, who looked extremely good against third- and fourth-stringers. We here at Niners Nation have an affinity for lower depth chart running backs coming out and balling in the preseason - just look at Thomas Clayton and Kory Sheets, who was (and who knows, could still be) our future. I don't know if people will get excited about Omon of not, but I'm going to suggest not, considering we now have actual, factual backup material in Hunter and Dixon. Still, good to see something from him.