By John Camera
Don’t look now but the rookie runner leading the league in rushing has become a top-tier runningback in the NFL. Arguably only sitting behind stars like Zeke Elliot, David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley, Kareem Hunt is establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with with each game that passes.
Hunt was one my personal favorite runningbacks in this past draft class, second only to Jamaal Williams, and I compared him to perennial 1,000-yard rusher Frank Gore. That’s a lofty comparison but I truly believed Hunt deserved it and would emulate Gore if he improved the weaknesses in his game. Boy has he ever.
The following is my scouting report on Hunt following his senior year at Toledo:
All of the positives I found in his game transitioned almost immediately, not something that happens very often as rookies adjust to the speed and complexity of the NFL. Not only that, but Hunt improved on the negatives that made him a very good back rather than an elite one on the level of Leonard Fournette.
To start, I greatly underestimated Hunt’s finishing speed on his carries at Toledo. While I did note his speed was excellent and acceleration immediate, I didn’t think he had that game-breaking gear to pull away and break off runs for 70, 80 yards a pop. Hunt proved me wrong in his very first game, twice pulling away from the New England defense and hasn’t stopped since then. Make no mistake, Kareem Hunt may not look like Gurley or Fournette but he is as much, if not more, of a world class athlete as those guys are.
Hunt has also shown a commitment to his pass-blocking game, something that was already solid but needed some work to it. Hunt has protected Alex Smith well since taking over the starting role for the injured Spencer Ware. In addition, the Toledo product has kept his weight in the 210s, a perfect weight for his combination of speed and power, not getting as high as the 230s that he was at in his earlier years with the Rockets.
Most impressive to me is how Hunt has gotten better and more patient as a runner. That manic style that he sometimes exhibited is much harder to find now than it was last season at Toledo. Hunt should get major props for how he has not only adjusted to the speed of the NFL but improved as a player at the same time.
While improving his negatives, every one of Hunt’s positives that I noted has transitioned almost perfectly to the NFL. The rookie has shown his great speed, impressive acceleration and elite level change of direction and agility in every single performance. On top of that, his vision has been very strong to start the season; Hunt is trusting his blockers and picking the right holes to run through.
Hunt’s ability to move the pile, whether at 230 or 200, could never be disputed, but it’s still worth noting just how well a 5’10” and 216 pound runningback is crushing defenders. His full toolbox of open field moves and elite balance has also helped him churn out yards even when it seems little to nothing is there for him.
The one positive that I did note but am nonetheless still surprised at how well Hunt has adapted it into the NFL is his receiving ability. While not on the level of fellow rookie Christian McCaffrey, Hunt has immediately inserted himself into the Chiefs passing game and done an excellent job of contributing to it. Hunt was always a good receiver at Toledo, he caught 73 passes there, but he wasn’t quite the contributor that he has become for the Chiefs.
While it would be fair to imagine the rookie having speedbumps or games similar to the 9-carry, 21-yard performance he had against Pittsburgh, don’t think for one second that Kareem Hunt will be a one-year wonder. Defenses will figure out the best way to defend this potent Chiefs offense and Hunt will see games where his chances are limited, but rest assured the Toledo product’s name is one we can get used to for a long time.