Is Kendall Hunter the best change-of-pace back in football?

Pro Football Focus has been publishing depth charts which they grade position-by-position. They recently published a 49ers’ depth chart and graded Kendall Hunter as a below-average “HB2,” or change-of-pace back.

Here’s how Hunter’s rushing statistics the past two seasons have stacked up against the change-of-pace backs whom PFF rank as “good” or “high level.”

Kendall Hunter: 4.86 yards per carry/ 2.69 yards after contact per carry

Darren Sproles: 4.59 yards per carry/ 1.71 yards after contact per carry

Fred Jackson: 4.13 yards per carry/ 2.50 yards after contact per carry

Jonathan Stewart: 3.66 yards per carry/ 2.54 yards after contact per carry

Danny Woodhead: 4.01 yards after contact/ 1.79 yards after contact per carry

Pierre Thomas: 4.06 yards per carry/ 2.44 yards after contact per carry

Shane Vereen: 4.34 yards per carry/ 2.11 yards after contact per carry

Joique Bell: 4.30 yards per carry/ 2.58 yards after contact per carry

This article has 63 Comments

  1. Im first, i beleive. Anyway kendall has done a great job all things considered, heck i think he has been under used more so than james im cant really fell sometype of way about lattimore and hyde till i see them play.

    1. You’re right Monroe,

      Hunter simply has not done or gotten enough Body Of Work with the 49ers. That’s not his fault but if he was on another Team with no True #1 RB he would be The Man. I think he’s that talented.

      Now he’ll have even more of a battle to get playing time with Hyde & Lattimore.

  2. Looking at those numbers, I believe Hunter is the best change of pace back. The stat that’s telling is the 2.69 yards after contact. Not only does he have a high yard per carry average, but this shows that despite his size he’s a strong runner. He’s exactly what you want in a change of pace back. The only thing that sets Hunter apart from the rest of the backs listed is he doesn’t get many chances as a pass catcher. He wasn’t a huge pass catcher in college, but he would probably be adequate enough in that role if given more opportunities.

  3. Have always thought Hunter could a #1 type guy. The problem is he had far less snaps last year than everyone on that list with the exception of Vereen and Stewart.

    Woodhead had 81 receptions last year and over 1100 yards of offense.

    Thomas had 77 receptions and over 1000 yards of offense.

    Bell had 53 receptions and over 1100 yards of offense.

    Vereen had 54 receptions and over 600 yards of offense.

      1. Roman hardly calls pass plays in general. And when he does, the RB is usually just a check-down option at best. Maybe that’ll change this year with Lattimore and Hyde.

  4. Of course not and as I typed I think he could be a #1 guy if given the opportunity, but he had about half of the snaps that most of those guys got.

  5. Is Tavaris Jackson the best QB in the league?

    Last season Tavaris Jackson’s completion percentage was 76.9 and he averaged a whopping 11.6 yards per attempt. Compare that to other QB’s that are generally in the conversation for best in the league and maybe you’ll start see Mr. Jackson in a new light;

    Tavaris Jackson 76.9% 11.6 avg
    Phillip Rivers 69.5% 8.2 avg
    Drew Brees 68.6 % 7.9 avg
    Peyton Manning 68.3% 8.3 avg
    Aaron Rodgers 66.6% 8.7 avg

    I wonder if # of attempts has any bearing??

    1. Coffee,
      Don’t you know how it works around here? If you take away Hunters lack of playing time, he’ll be one of the top backs in the league.

  6. Are the PFF geeks aware Hunter tore his Achilles in 2012? In 2012 he averaged about the same YPC as Gore. Around 5.2 yards. Then he got hurt. His outstanding play glued LMJ to the sidelines.

    When healthy, Hunter is an excellent all around back. A bit small, but certainly no “change-of-pace” featherweight specialist.

    1. If Hunter and Lattimore are healthy my 2014 depth chart goes…
      1-2) Gore or Hunter having about equal number of carries
      3) Hyde
      4) Lattimore

      My 2015 after Gore retires with a Lombardi trophy…
      1-2-3) Three headed monster Hyde-Lattimore-Hunter

      1. Brodie,

        You think they resign Hunter with the depth they have? I guess I could see it if he came really cheap, but I think he could probably find more money elsewhere and compete for a bigger role than he’ll likely get in SF.

  7. Based on his excellent stats, Kendall Hunter should have had many more carries last season.
    Hyde and Lattimore will be even better than Hunter. So it will be ridiculous if Harbaugh and Roman overuse poor old Frank Gore again this season.
    Regarding Hunter catching so few passes, Kaepernick said he has to improve at checking down to his running backs.

    1. Will never work. Offenses that bring a player in at the RB position need to get that RB a chance to get into the flow. Working in 3 RB ultimately will piss three guys off. We need to settle on 2 RB’s and split the carries evenly. I know Gore is going to get his 10 carries, I really hope they don’t give him more than that. In my opinion Gore is the least explosive and least diverse of all the running backs on the team this year. Giving him the lionshare of the carries would be putting him above the team which would be too bad.

  8. The yards-after-contact number is interesting. KH is short and stout with strong legs. Watching Gore certainly must have helped him get the most out of his low center of gravity. I suspect he’ll be better in ’14 than last year.
    This is an example of the strengths and weaknesses of stats. These stats were revealing. If asked I wouldn’t have guessed Hunter had such good ypc or yac. The weakness is that the Eyeball Test seems to favor Sproules as more effective, and Woodhead had a superb year. Most neutral observers would likely rate those two ahead of Hunter, but he’s a good fit in SF.

    1. Sproles is nowhere near the inside runner that Hunter is. We have to remember the Achilles injury Hunter had too. I just don’t like that we have such a crowded backfield this year.
      I really hoped that this year would have been the Hunter / lattimore show. Hyde will marinate in the playbook. Once he learns his blocking assignments he should be ready to just in time for the Seahawks games.

  9. Kendall Hunter occupied a valuable spot on my bench for the entire season in my fantasy league last year. Those of you that play fantasy football will know how hard it is to keep a player that doesn’t contribute any points on the bench that long. I kept him because I knew he would be put up awesome RB2 maybe even RB1 numbers if he was ever given the #1 back role for the Niners. Obviously, I was in a tough spot, I would never in a million years hope for any type of ill to befall frank, but I realized with his age and the punishment Gore takes every game that there was a possibility Hunter would get a chance and when he did, lookout, I was going to be posting 15-20 points a game with a flex player. I think Hunter, if not the best change of pace back is up there near the top.

  10. Hunter will Gore the competition and get a few Hydes to show for it..
    In all honesty we should be able to exploit any D’s weaknesses with our stable.. I really hope we start attacking the D rather than grinding out wins with our immobile game plan..I think the regular season will be a bit of an audition for the RBs to see who will be given the starting role for the playoffs. I don’t think much separates LMJ and Hunter so we will have a great fresh guy for our run regardless, and I don’t think much separates Hyde from Lattimore ( if fully healthy) so we will have a great short yardage back for the Playoffs regardless.. Just my take

    1. I think that Coach Harbaugh is guilty of attempting to get 5 gallons into a 2 gallon bucket. He’s doing it with WR’s, RB’s, TE’s, DB’s, and special teams. Not many NFL teams can boast 5 QUALITY RB’s behind a Frank Gore…who, incidently has at least 2 more quality years ahead of him IMHO. Frank has one quality that I think makes him more successful than any RB in the league…patience; and it keeps him from taking the devastating hits that hard-chargers take.

      Gaming the system with your ‘Redshirt’ drafts is really cool for being a dog in the manger, but no matter how many positions you stockpile, there are only 53 slots to fill plus the PS, of course. What baffles me, is …where’s the gain?

      1. Tom Rathman was just quoted as saying that Bill Walsh would not give you a start on name alone and that Frank Gore understands this. Yes Gore has patience, but he also no longer threatens the entire field which is a huge concern.

        1. Rocket

          Don’t leave me out of the race….I’m a LMJ believer all the way. In that I question most of JH’s personnel moves, sending LaMike down the road would only be par.

  11. This article is about Hunter, but in the larger conversation about RB I don’t hear a word about LMJ. Its as though he isn’t even a factor. He lost some love with fans for remarks, but it sounds like he came to Mini ready to work hard. Accounts mentioned that he looked good. Obviously he has to show it in pads. He’s still in the mix somehow, but difficult to see him fit on this roster. If he shows well early in pre-season games maybe they could get some interest in him.

    1. Most on here, including Grant have written off LMJ. I think I’m about the only one or pretty close to it, who sees him making the team this season. My reasoning is pretty simple: he’s the PR and has done almost as well as Hunter has with even fewer opportunities. I like Hunter, but I don’t see him as being that different from Gore and Hyde. The fact that he’s going into the final year of his contract also makes me question whether the team sees him as being an option beyond this season. Right now I think they’ll keep Hunter and LMJ, but if Lattimore keeps improving, then one of them might be in danger and given that Hunter offers no ST’s value I think he would be the one in jeopardy under that scenario.

      1. Hunter had five tackles and a touchdown in kickoff coverage last season. PFF gave him a +2.1 grade in kickoff coverage. Only Dobbs and Wilhoite graded out higher in kickoff coverage.

          1. Hunter was the third-best coverage guy on the team last year according to PFF. Better than Ventrone and Dahl.

            1. He played a different spot on ST’s than those guys did, but either way, I think it would be easier to find a replacement on coverage teams than a new returner. Ellington may be able to do it but I don’t think Harbaugh would be comfortable with a rookie in that position.

              They could also decide to keep 5 RB’s at the expense of one of the ST’s slots if Hunter is deemed too valuable on coverage teams.

              1. I don’t think Harbaugh would be enamored with the idea of a rookie returner, especially when he has a top ten guy at his disposal already.

                If Ellington lights it up in preseason then he may have to think about it, but otherwise I can’t see it.

              2. Six WRs and five RBs on the 53-man roster might be a bit much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 49ers traded James during preseason like they did with A.J. Jenkins last year.

              1. Good point, which is why I mentioned it would be easier to find a replacement on coverage teams than a new return man.

      2. Rocket

        Don’t leave me out of the race….I’m a LMJ believer all the way. In that I question most of JH’s personnel moves, sending LaMike down the road would only be par.

  12. Blog Fantasy Football

    I’m hosting a blog FFL along with the annual blog pick’em. I’ll wait until a bit later for the pick’em sign ups but I want to give the fantasy teams more time to get people signed up. At the moment I have a single 12 team league created. Once that one is full If there are enough I will create a second one as well. No Fee, bragging rights only.

    If you are interested I unfortunately need your email. I prefer to use Yahoo FF but it appears the only means I have of inviting people to the league is to have their email. So if you are OK posting it here then by all means go ahead otherwise you can send it to Once I have your email I will send an invite. Everyone is invited. The only rule that I will try to enforce is that your team name is your blog name.

    Currently the draft is set for Sunday August 24th at 1030 am pst.

    Have sent out 4 invites so far so there are plenty of spots left.

    1. Out of the league? Just kidding, I know you put him on your predicted roster, but I can’t see it. He is behind a long list of better options here.

      1. “He is behind a long list of better options here.”

        He’s behind a long list of question marks. We know about Gore and we kind of have a small idea about Hunter but other then that what do we really know about any of the the other names. LMJ’s only value appears to be as a returner but is that because he too has had enough chances? I don’t think you can assume Hamptons chances are any better or worse then anybody other then Gore and Hunter.

        1. Lattimore ? is he 100%, will he ever be? Can he hold up?

          Hyde? Rookie, can he play at the NFL level?

          Hampton? Haven’t seen him play to know anything about him other then the team liked him enough to keep him around last year.

          LMJ? So far only has value as a return man and even that is questionable. Could he do more with more chances?

          Hyde will be on the team because he was drafted high enough to earn the benefit of the doubt if he stumbles. LMJ is already linked as trade bait and we still know nothing about Lattimores ability to play at full speed against live contact.

          1. LMJ is only linked as trade bait by the fans. The team has said they aren’t trading him, and I haven’t heard anything to the contrary being reported by NFL Insiders. The fact that he has a very good YPC on the few touches he has had tells us his lack of carries are not due to his performance in games. What it probably means is they don’t trust him as a blocker which I can understand. Hopefully he improves in that area and they actually figure out a way to use him like Oregon did at some point. I think the kid is being wasted quite frankly.

            Hyde and Hunter will be the backups to Gore if Lattimore isn’t ready to go, with LMJ as the 4th option and P/K returner. If Lattimore is ready, then it becomes dicey as to whether they keep both Hunter and LMJ imo. I don’t see Hampton in the mix in either scenario but you never know.

            1. Your personal preference towards the player is forcing you to say things you know aren’t true. The rumors about LMJ’s trade candidacy went farther then a couple fans at the water cooler wasting company time and you know that just because Baalke denies something doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any legitimacy. He’ll not be on the team if his only value is deemed as a punt returner unless he shows the ability to suddenly be an elite return man, which is highly doubtful given his performance so far at it. Maybe they aren’t using him properly but that only means they don’t need him for what he’s possibly good at so let him go find a team that can exploit whatever that is and hopefully the team can get a draft pick in return to recoup some of value.

              Everything else you say is just pure speculation, you don’t persuade in anyway that Hyde will beat out Hampton or that Lattimore will even be able to play.

              1. Cfc:

                Do you seriously see Hampton as more than the 6th of the 6 RBs? I don’t think he makes the 53 man roster unless 2 of the guys in front of him fail to make the team because of injury/trade.

                Also, you might want to review LMJ’s numbers before you dismiss his return abilities.

              2. My point truly is that I don’t know anything about Hampton and most of the other RB’s and neither does anybody else. Everybody is guessing about what Hyde and Lattimore can do while Hampton is a player that has already spent a year with the team. Lattimore has as well but I’m not comparing the role of someone who was practicing with the team to someone that was rehabbing a gruesome injury.

                His kick return average ranked 24th and his punt return average was 22nd. He’ll have to do a heck of a lot better then that to earn a spot if that is his only value.

              3. CFC,

                LMJ was 10th in average on Punt Returns and 8th in average on KR’s, although he only had 12 on the season.

                Look I agree we don’t know for sure what is happening in the minds of the Niner Coaches, but we can make an educated assumption based on the moves made. If they liked Hampton as anything more than an end of the roster/PS guy they would have made an effort to give him a shot. Not only did they not use him, but they also drafted another guy in the second round this year. So tell me how that gives you any kind of idea that the Niners think this guy has a future with the team?

              4. My bad for not being clear when I said “ranked”. Those were based off of his kick and punt return averages. We was the 24th ranked based upon his kick return average on 22nd based upon his punt return average.


              5. I bet after I say this most of the argument ends; on my 53 roster projection it was based upon Lattimore ending up on the pup, which was a out of my heiny guess. If he’s healthy enough to play then I would swap him and Hampton.

                As far as LMJ goes, the first one to offer up a hot sandwich and a bag of chips gets him.

              6. CFC,

                That list includes players who returned 1 punt all season. Look at CB’s link to get a listing that shows players who did it for most of the season and how they ranked. LMJ was top ten in both Punt and Kick return average.

                No matter what happens with Lattimore I can’t see how Hampton makes the roster. He couldn’t beat out anybody last year for a spot and the players ahead of him are even better this season. Injuries would be the only chance as Claude mentioned above.

                Obviously you’ve made your decision on LMJ so I won’t try to change your mind. We’ll see what happens.

              7. By the end of the summer they’ll be willing to take a pbj that’s crusty from sitting in the sun and a bag of generic nacho chips with a big clump of cheese dust at the bottom.

              8. Well obviously. They’d give serious consideration to giving up anybody for that kind of return.

    1. Yeah it’s going to be tough BT. Hard decisions have to be made when your roster is loaded like this one is. Good problem to have though.

  13. CFC,

    My views on LMJ are not because I have some bias towards him. I’m not an Oregon Duck fan and am not from his hometown. I simply watched this kid play and he was an explosive playmaker. There is a reason he was chosen in the second round and yet the Coaches don’t seem to know what to do with him.

    In the limited opportunities he’s been given to run the ball, he’s shown the same level of ability as Hunter, and he also gives them more big play ability than Hunter if they get him out in space imo.

    Your take on his return skills is off base. He did it full time for the first time in his life last season and was ranked 10th overall. That may not be elite right now, but clearly shows he has a chance to be with more experience.

    I have not heard rumors of them trading LMJ other than the desire for that too happen from a few on here. If Baalke says they aren’t trading him then I take that over speculating that they will. They may trade him or cut him, I don’t know, but imo they won’t and it would be a mistake to do so unless they are sure they have a return man they can rely on behind him.

    I’m not trying to persuade you of anything. Hyde is already ahead of Hampton, that isn’t even a question. Lattimore has been improving from week to week so it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility he is able to be a factor come the start of the season.

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