How will Kareem Hunt fare in his sophomore season in the NFL?

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6:Running back Kareem Hunt
KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 6:Running back Kareem Hunt /

Let’s take a closer look at other rookie running backs who did as well as Hunt and see how they fared in their sophomore seasons.

From the very beginning, Chiefs Kingdom saw just how special Kareem Hunt was going to be. Under the bright lights of the season opening on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions, a rookie running back from Toledo made every reporter rip up their headlines and body copy to rewrite a game recap that would feature him front and center.

Ever since his breakout (and record-breaking) performance on that opening Thursday night victory for the Chiefs over the New England Patriots, Hunt has been quickly catapulted to the league’s elite ranks. That’s for good reason since the opening salvo was only part of the larger story of a very successful season, one that saw him lead the NFL in rushing by season’s end.

Hunt finished the regular season as one of only a handful of rookies to win the rushing title, so we thought it’d be good to look back at the best rookie rushing seasons ever to see how those backs fared in their second season. Just how good will Hunt be in 2018? Maybe these comps will give us an idea.

Eric Dickerson, 1983

If you’re too young to remember Eric Dickerson, you need to at least put in the time to watch some YouTube clips to see just how dominating the Rams running back could be. Not only did he lead the NFL in rushing four times in his career, but he did so in back to back years to begin his pro career.

During his rookie campaign in ’83, Dickerson set the record with 1,808 rushing yards on 390 carries and 18 touchdowns. What’s even more amazing is that he added another 404 yards on 51 catches.

The next season? 

If Kareem Hunt can look anything like Eric Dickerson’s second year, the Chiefs might as well print their shirts claiming a three-peat for the division title. Dickerson went off like no one else in his second season, rushing 379 times for 2,105 yards and 14 touchdowns. Yes, he ran 11 less times for 300 more yards. He was that incredible, good for a gaudy 5.6 yards/carry average as a workhorse back.

Ezekiel Elliott, 2016

The NFL’s next great running back certainly looked the part during his rookie year, running behind that celebrated offensive front built by Jerry Jones over the last few drafts. Elliott led the league in both attempts (322) and rushing yards (1,631) and hit the end zone 15 times in the process. With another 32 catches for 363 receiving yards, Zeke looked like a complete back from Day One.

The next season?

Well you will likely recall (since it was just last year), Elliott was suspended for several games in 2017 and even the potential of being suspended hung over his head even when he was playing. He finished the year with only 10 starts but even the averages were also down a bit, from 5.1 yards/carry in 2016 to 4.1/carry a year later. He ended the season with 983 rushing yards all the same, and his 98.3 yards/game led the NFL, which means he was still rushing at a league-high clip. He just clearly wasn’t as efficient.

Given the lack of distractions and, hopefully, suspensions for Kareem Hunt, it’s hard to imagine this sort of drop off in production.

Barry Sanders, 1989

It feels almost unfair to pit Kareem Hunt against Barry Sanders simply because no one looks good next to Barry Sanders. I was a teenager when Sanders was in his prime and it was just clear that he was in a class by himself, and that it was criminal to say he played the same position as so many others. He didn’t. He was otherworldly in his talent.

However on the stat sheet, things don’t look nearly as divided. Sanders rushed 280 times for 1,470 yards during his rookie year with a very impressive 5.3 yards/carry average. He also had 14 rushing touchdowns.

The next season?

Just like Dickerson, Sanders was just getting warmed up as he continued to churn out the production and touchdowns without hitting any wall. Sanders led the league with 1,304 rushing yards and added 480 more via 36 catches and he maintained that healthy average, slipping ever so slightly to 5.1 yards/carry.

Hunt averaged 4.9 yards/carry for the Chiefs during his rookie year, so the comps are clearly similar as a very productive lead back who is also a weapon as a pass catcher. Perhaps Sanders’ early career isn’t really a reach at all.

Earl Campbell, 1978

Earl Campbell’s greatness lasted exactly four seasons. While there was a gasp of another 1,000 yard rushing season to come, the reality is Campbell showed his incredible rushing prowess before the NFL really took hold in the Joe Montana era. It’s a shame he doesn’t get the credit he deserves among casual fans comparing the greatest RBs ever.

Campbell led the NFL in rushing during his rookie season with 1,450 rushing yards on 302 carries, good for a 4.8 yards/carry average. He also had 14 rushing touchdowns, which is typical of these backs in that every one of them gets more end zone touches than Hunt does with the Chiefs—at least so far.

The next season?

Campbell wasn’t much of a pass catcher (or at least he wasn’t really given that chance), but he maintained a dominant rushing streak for a few more seasons. He led the league in rushing again in 1979 (and again in 1980) with 1,697 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. His average dropped slightly to a still impressive 4.6 yards/carry.

Edgerrin James, 1999

The Indianapolis Colts were an offensive juggernaut for much of Edgerrin James’ career as Peyton Manning allowed everyone around him to shine offensively. It helps when defenses have to worry about Marvin Harrison over the top, of course, but Edge did his part to keep defenses honest by leading the NFL in rushing during his rookie season with 369 rushes and 1,553 yards (both league-high totals).

The next season?

Once again, a rookie who led the NFL in rushing did so again during his sophomore season. James rushed for 1,709 yards in 2000, good for a 4.4 yards/carry average. Those were the only two times James ever led the NFL in rushing, although he still had five more seasons of over 1,000 rushing yards to come.


Looking back it’s clear that if a player was good enough to lead the league in rushing for his first year, he was certainly good enough to do so again. In fact, it seems like many of history’s best rookie rushers had no drop off at all after being used so much. Rather, they were just getting going, as several players enjoyed a large burst in the beginning of their pro careers, putting up totals that were hard to duplicate later on. This is, of course, predictable as teams continue to turn toward rookie backs and rarely hand out lucrative deals to veterans.

If anything, Hunt should be a good bet to lead the NFL in rushing again especially as the Chiefs ease Patrick Mahomes into his role as the new starting quarterback. His experience should only enhance his instincts on the field, and the Chiefs backfield should be very strong once again.