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Friday, September 14, 2012

Buy and Hold Sleeper Pick - Kendall Hunter

Last week I named Stephen Hill as my new deep sleeper, taking over for Greg Olsen... who has become very fashionable in recent weeks.  Well, wouldn't you know it?  Hill went off for 89 yards and two touchdowns.  Not to pat myself on the back, but now that Hill has gone from 2% ownership to more than 45% (at ESPN anyway) so it looks like I have to pick a new sleeper.  Maybe more of a buy and hold guy this time.

Let's take a look at Kendall Hunter.  He's the backup to a running back that is often referred to as injury-prone so that makes him worthy of a pickup by itself, but he still gets carries even when Frank Gore is healthy.  In fact, even though Gore was great last week, it was still much more of a timeshare than you would think.  Gore had 112 yards rushing... With that in mind how many carries would you guess that he and Hunter both had last week?  How about 16 for Gore and 9 for Hunter?  It was more of a split than you thought, wasn't it?

This shows us a few things:  (1) The coaches trust Hunter; (2) Hunter is the handcuff to Gore; and, (3) Hunter is already an active part of the game plan so he would integrate seamlessly into the starting role if needed.



Furthermore, this isn't new.  Hunter averaged 7 carries per game last year as a rookie with a per carry average of 4.2 yards.  That's not a lot, but it does echo the three points just spelled out.  The coaches trusted him as a rookie and they trust him as a 2nd year player.  He'll get the call if needed.

A few notes about Gore for you, though.  The injury prone label is a little overblown with Gore.  In seven seasons in the NFL he's played in 14 or more games six times (11 games the seventh year) and has averaged about 1,100 yards rushing.  He's actually fairly consistent.  But, he does seem to go down for a couple of games on an annual basis.  For those two games, what are the odds that you will want to have and start Hunter?  Pretty good, yeah?  So, let's say you could get a guy off of the waiver wire who will get about 30% of the carries week-to-week and will mix in two starts per year?  And, that on a high-powered offense that wants to run the ball to control the clock due to having best defense in the league?  Yes, please.

Hunter is 9% owned.  So, in 91% of leagues he is a free agent.  Frank Gore, of course, is 100% owned.  Listen, Hunter has got to be picked up as a handcuff.  If you spent about a 3rd round pick on Gore you need to protect that investment.  And, if you don't own Gore, Hunter is still a worthy pickup anyway.  He's going to get about 4 points a week pretty regularly with lots of upside plus the opportunity to start every once in a while.  I think that is a better use of a bench slot than a lot of the Mike Tolbert, Bernard Scott, and Isaiah Pead types out there.

More notes about Gore - He's 29 years old (pretty old for an RB), just two years ago was his frustrating 11-game season, and he had 311 total carries just last year when you add in the post season.  That's a lot of carries the year after his injury-filled 2010 and the year before his age 29 season.  So, while it is unfair to call Gore injury prone it is fair to call him a good bet to break down this year, further raising the stock of Kendall Hunter.

I believe we will look up at the end of the year and Hunter will have at least something like 157 carries for 722 yards and 4 TD's.  That is only if he gets 8 carries per game for 14 weeks and then adds in another 45 carries in his two starts. (And averages 4.6 yards per carry, which might be a bit optimistic.)  However, what if Gore does go down with an injury and Hunter gets a bunch of starts?  Huge upside for a very low investment.  Pretty good for a waiver wire pickup, right?