Kareem Hunt is only continuing to turn heads in his second NFL season despite the presence of so many other weapons on Kansas City’s offense.
Kareem Hunt was the story of the Kansas City Chiefs offense last season.
Looking back, the trade up for Hunt in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft was a masterstroke for John Dorsey, then the Chiefs general manager, as he maneuvered up to grab the running back out of Toledo to be the future of the position. A preseason injury to Spencer Ware accelerated the timetable and a record-breaking performance on national television against the New England Patriots served notice to the entire league that the Chiefs had a real playmaker at running back.
With Alex Smith at the helm at quarterback and two nice offensive options, Hunt fit in perfectly with Tyreek Hill at wide receiver and Travis Kelce at tight end to give the Chiefs a trio of bright young performers. Hunt would go on to lead the entire league in rushing yards in his first season, only the sixth such rookie to do so, with 1,327 on the year. Hunt would add another 455 receiving yards to end his rookie campaign with nearly 1,800 yards from scrimmage.
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Throughout his rookie year, Hunt looked like a great NFL back. His ability to break tackles, to generate so much yardage after contact, to see the field with a rare vision—it was all part of the well-rounded package that allowed Hunt to earn a Pro Bowl nod and a spot on the league’ all-rookie team.
Heading into 2018, however, Hunt wasn’t supposed to steal this much of the spotlight—or at least that was the idea for a lot of Chiefs fans and NFL analysts. During the offseason, the Chiefs signed Sammy Watkins as a free agent, welcomed back wideout Chris Conley and Ware from injury, and suddenly Andy Reid was fielding questions about how to feed so many mouths on offense.
Hunt was always going to be the feature back with Patrick Mahomes as quarterback, but the offense simply wasn’t going to need as much from him as it did in his first year. With Alex Smith at quarterback, Hunt was more of a necessity. With Mahomes, he was supposed to be more of a luxury. That’s not to say that the Chiefs weren’t going to use him, but rather the number of offensive playmakers (and potential playmakers) is simply overwhelming on paper.
Consider the competition on paper even at running back. Last year, Hunt was spelled on occasion by Charcandrick West with returner/running back Akeem Hunt also on the roster. The Chiefs also made a regular habit of signing and releasing C.J. Spiller from time to time. De’Anthony Thomas and Tyreek Hill might rush the ball every once in a while, but largely it was about Hunt and then a steep fall in talent to the next guy.
Fast forward one season and the Chiefs look more talented in the backfield than anyone else in the NFL. Spencer Ware is back and looks like he could become an underrated yet vital cog in this offense. He even had 81 yards from scrimmage on Sunday against the Browns. Behind him is Damien Williams, a two-way threat as a receiving back who earned all kinds of attention as an offseason acquisition yet his reps have been severely limited due to so much talent on the roster. So far this season, he has 3 rushes and 3 catches for a total of 19 yards from scrimmage in 2018. Even on the bench of the active roster is undrafted free agent Darrel Williams, a promising rookie back out of LSU.
Given the sheer volume of talent around Hunt, and Mahomes’ ability to put the ball anywhere he wants at any time, the presumption was that Hunt’s ability to pile up so many stats might be gone—a one-year, league-leading fling before being relegated to simply being a very, very good player among many on the Chiefs offense.
Nine games in, Hunt has made it clear that the greatness of others still cannot match his own.
During Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Hunt put up another three touchdowns total on the day—good enough to eclipse last season’s total of 11 touchdowns. This year, Hunt now has 995 yards from scrimmage on the year and he’s keeping pace enough to better last year’s effort in total yards, having already set the touchdown mark. In short, if you thought Hunt looked great last year, he’s been on another level this year.
Hunt has made headlines with hurdles. He’s moved the chains when necessary. He’s provided a near-perfect outlet from the backfield for Mahomes. He hasn’t even fumbled the football since the very first play of his career.
Kareem Hunt’s name is often forgotten when discussing the most talented backs in the NFL. Todd Gurley receives the notoriety he deserves up front. Ezekiel Elliot is a dangerous back playing for one of the most valuable franchises in any sport. Beyond that and the list gets muddy depending on how much you believe in Le’Veon Bell one year removed or James Conner after just nine games or Alvin Kamara as a rusher or Saquon Barkley‘s future.
But here’s what Hunt is doing in the here and now: he’s letting everyone know, including his own teammates, that no one has yet seen the limits of his talents and that leading the NFL in rushing as a rookie was the opening chapter on a very exciting NFL career.
Hunt isn’t just another offensive weapon for the Chiefs. He’s an elite NFL talent squished onto a crowded bench who will always get his stats simply by being given the ball from time to time.