As we count down the days to training camp, Around the League will examine one player from every team set for a breakout campaign in 2012. Next up: the San Francisco 49ers.
Running back Kendall Hunter approached the line of scrimmage looking for a hole, finding nothing. It was third-and-one against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16. The 5-foot-7 dynamo had been stuffed the play before.
This was supposed to be Frank Gore's down. Or even Anthony Dixon. Those guys were the short-yardage hammers. What was Jim Harbaugh doing giving it to Hunter up the middle on back-to-back plays with playoff positioning on the line?
Hunter crept to the outside, but there was nowhere to go. The Seahawks had him surrounded with five defenders. In a moment of hesitation, depending on your vantage point, Hunter seemed to disappear. He waited. And then exploded up the middle like he was shot out of a cannon for 24 yards. The Seahawks defenders never saw him. So that's why Harbaugh had him in.
Making the Leap: Kendall Hunter
I don't care that the 49ers signed Brandon Jacobs. He's not even a lock to make the team. I don't care that Frank Gore is one of the most underrated players at any position over the last decade. The 49ers think they can get more with less from the aging back. I don't even care that the 49ers drafted another promising back in LaMichael James.
Kendall Hunter is going to break out this year because he has "it." And because he was drafted by the right team.
The 49ers might have the most creative offensive staff in football when it comes to the running game. They won't hesitate to have Gore and Hunter in the backfield together in a variety of formations. They will find a way to use Hunter as a receiver, a position in which he averaged 12.2 yards-per-reception.
Hunter put up 668 yards from scrimmage as a rookie. He's not going to suddenly become a workhorse, but that number could double as the 49ers find more ways to get him the ball.
He's San Francisco's answer to Darren Sproles, except he has more surprising power. Again and again, we saw Hunter gain additional yards after contact. He falls forward when getting hit -- at least when you can find him.