Packers Might Rewrite Running Back History

The Packers have steered clear of short running backs, but that could change this year. A source told Packer Report that they think highly of one of the top runners in the draft, and he could be a "need" player with Brandon Jackson a potential unrestricted free agent.

In the 1989 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers overlooked a short running back from Oklahoma State and used their first-round pick on Tony Mandarich.

It wound up being one of the worst decisions in NFL history.

Twenty-two years later, there's another short running back from Oklahoma State, Kendall Hunter. Hunter's not Barry Sanders and he's not a first-round draft pick, but if he's available at the end of the second round, Packers general manager Ted Thompson might be facing quite a dilemma.

Thompson has avoided short running backs like the plague, so that history makes the 5-foot-7 Hunter a most unlikely target. James Starks is 6-foot-2. Ryan Grant is 6-foot-1. Brandon Jackson is 5-foot-10.

For that matter, Thompson has avoided drafted running backs, period. He didn't draft any in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009, taking Jackson and DeShawn Wynn (2007) and Starks (2010).

Nonetheless, an NFL source told Packer Report that the Packers think highly of Hunter.

It's easy to see why. As a sophomore in 2008, he rushed for 1,555 yards (6.5 average) and 16 touchdowns. After a sprained ankle limited him in 2009, Hunter bounced back to post nearly identical numbers with 1,548 yards (5.7 average) and 16 touchdowns. Throw in 63 career receptions and a modest history of returning kickoffs, and Hunter is considered the sixth-best running back in this draft, according to the official rankings that were provided to Packer Report.

"I've been in the air more than I've been on land," Hunter said of his six pre-draft visits — Green Bay not among them.

The comparisons between Sanders and Hunter are easy, based on school, build, production and running style. The 199-pound Hunter disappears behind his linemen and rapidly shifts into high gear to burst through a hole. He's got great vision as well as terrific balance to bounce off would-be tacklers or avoid them in the open field. His 40 time at the Combine was 4.52 but scouts clocked him as fast as 4.38 on campus in the spring.

And also like Sanders, rather than get nervous before the game, Hunter takes a nap, opting for a quick 10-minute snooze after the pregame warm-ups.

"I've been doing it my whole life, ever since I was a kid," he said. "I just fall asleep and wake up ready to go."

The obvious knock is Hunter's size — and specifically for Green Bay, his ability to pass protect. With Starks and/or Grant carrying the load in the running game, Hunter would be expected to play in passing situations. It's a doubt Hunter has heard before, and he points to his play during Senior Bowl week as proof that he can handle blitzing linebackers.

He also has small hands, which led to 10 fumbles during his four seasons — a fumble rate of 1.30 percent that is worse than other top-ranked running backs, such as Mark Ingram, Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Williams, DeMarco Murray, Jordan Todman and Shane Vereen. Then again, Starks had a history of fumbling at Buffalo but didn't cough it up all season with Green Bay, so coaching can cure those shortcomings.

"When people tell me I can't do stuff like that, it makes me work even harder and motivates me," Hunter said.

Hunter, who earned all-Big 12 academic honors and will graduate in May with a degree in education, will have no problem picking up the playbook — no small matter as he likely won't get the benefit of the rookie minicamp and OTAs because of the labor dispute.

"It's crazy. It's a dream come true," the soft-spoken Hunter said of nearing his NFL dream. "i thank the Lord for putting me in this position, because as a kid, that's all I dreamed about is being in this position right now. I always set my goals high and I've fulfilled every one of them."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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