49ers found RB Hunter, WR Johnson in bargain bin

They’re skill-position players from BCS schools who might have slipped in the draft due, in part, to injury concerns.

Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter – the 10th running back off the board — fell to the 49ers in the fourth round. USC’s Ronald Johnson, the 24th wide receiver selected, was still around in the middle of the sixth round.

Here’s CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang on Hunter and Johnson:


Mighty-mite running backs such as the 5-foot-7 Hunter generally don’t warrant early round consideration unless they possess off-the-chart skills (another Oklahoma State RB, Barry Sanders, is the most famous example).

And Rang believes Hunter could have been another exception if not for durability concerns.

Hunter was limited to 88 carries as a junior due to a stress fracture in his right ankle. He broke the same ankle as a junior at John Tyler (Texas) High and the injury required a plate and screws to surgically repair.

His injury-plagued junior year at OSU, however, was sandwiched between 1,500-yard, 16-touchdown seasons in which he averaged at least 5.7 yards a carry.

“It was a lack of size and lack of durability, that is why he dropped down,” Rang said. “But when he’s healthy he’s a pretty special player. It’s a rare player who’s going to warrant second-round consideration at Hunter’s size. But if he had never had durability questions while at Oklahoma State, he very easily could have gone that high.”

General manager Trent Baalke has said the 200-pound Hunter can be an every-down back. And Rang noted that Hunter is an adept pass-protecter who has a physical running style that belies his size. Hunter answered questions about his pass-catching ability at the Senior Bowl. And Rang said his strong performance in Mobile also erased concerns about whether much of his college success was a byproduct of the sizable holes he often darted through in OSU’s spread offense.

“He has some real burst to him. I love him,” Rang said. “Of all the 49ers (draftees), he was the guy that I thought could bring immediate impact potential. There’s obviously some durability concerns, but he is a very good football player who you can plug in immediately and it will give them something different to complement (Frank) Gore, and (Anthony) Dixon as well.”


Rang is among those who believe the selection of Johnson puts Ted Ginn on notice.

Johnson (5-10, 185), who projects as a slot receiver, was also an adept returner at USC, averaging 24.1 yards on 56 kickoff returns. He returned punts as a senior and averaged 14.2 yards on 22 returns, which ranked second in the Pac-10 and 12th in the nation.

“He is a good route runner and he is a very good punt returner,” Rang said. “So that really helps, especially when talking about a club that had to be sick of Ted Ginn’s inability to run consistent routes. And (Ginn) might not as been as dynamic a return man as they might have thought. I think that’s where (Johnson) can help them out.”

Johnson missed the first five games of his junior season with a broken collarbone and missed spring practice last year with wrist and elbow injuries.

“I’m not really super high on him, but where they drafted him he made a lot of sense,” Rang said. “His durability issues are a little bit of a red flag … But considering how low of a pick they invested in him, I think that’s a nice gamble for them and it could really pay off well.”

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