Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
When Kendall Hunter sustained his latest injury a season ago, I thought that was going to be the end of his San Francisco 49ers career. As a big fan of his running style and what he overall brings to the table, this was a depressing thought, especially given the question marks at the position with Frank Gore's impending free agency and the fact that Carlos Hyde was a rookie.
But the 49ers quickly re-signed Hunter to a new deal, and I think that more than anything is a big statement. A lot can happen between when the 49ers signed Hunter and now, but I still feel like they signed Hunter expecting him to fill the role he's going to fill next season.
I'm just not entirely sure what the role will be. Obviously, Hyde is going to be the starter, but behind him I'm not really sure how things will shake down. I will say that I really love Hunter's style of running and I think absent his injuries, he would be the starter right now and Hyde would be playing elsewhere.
Hunter has 262 carries for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns over the course of his career, but he's missed an entire season (last season) and also missed multiple games in 2012. He's a powerful runner, but also has solid top speed and never quite fit the role of a change of pace guy behind Frank Gore. A lot of people said that he was Gore's change of pace back simply because he was smaller and skinnier, and those people were silly because Hunter had a very similar running style.
Whatever the case, Hunter is healthy heading into this coming season and he's somewhere on the depth chart, I'm just not sure where. There's Reggie Bush and now rookie Mike Davis. I think if Davis impresses in training camp and gets some playing time, it will be at the expense of Hunter, while Bush should get some snaps simply to help make the offense appear more dynamic.
Maybe I'm just still on the Hunter hype train but I'm 100 percent pulling for him to get things back on track, because I think he makes the running game better when he's at his best.
Why he might improve:
Hunter managed 358 yards, three touchdowns and a per-carry average of 4.6 yards in 2013. That was playing 16 games behind Gore, and during the season many were questioning why Hunter wasn't getting more touches because he was doing quite well with the touches he was being given. Last season, Hunter hurt himself in training camp and didn't get a single snap. Obviously, given that, there's a ton of room for improvement. He only needs to show the team that he deserves the carries and I believe he'll get a fair shake at that.
Why he might regress:
There are a whole lot of things that could go wrong for Hunter. He could get injured again, as many are keen to call him "injury-prone," or the 49ers could simply have lost confidence in him on the way to signing Bush and drafting Davis, given his injury history. There's also the possibility that the injuries have limited him in such a way that he's simply lost a step. If Davis hits the ground running, then Hunter could quickly fall behind in the overall picture.
Odds of making the roster:
This one is very tricky. The 49ers drafted such a capable rookie in Davis, and he obviously can't be stashed on the practice squad. At this point, it's down to whether or not the 49ers would carry four running backs on the roster, because there's no chance either Bush, Hyde or Davis are gone. Four running backs isn't so far out there, so I'm going to go with 60 percent chances of being on the roster next season, though I could be way off, I suppose.