The Rookie Running Back Epidemic: Just How Good is Kareem Hunt?

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In the 2016 season, the Kansas City Chiefs had a fantastic campaign, winning 12 games and the AFC West division for the first time in 6 years. They finished 15th in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing yards per game. Although the numbers seemed solid, they were still looking for that #1 back. Spencer Ware seemed to be the guy after the conclusion of the season, rushing for 921 yards and 3 scores, as well as catching 33 passes out of the backfield for 447 yards and 2 more scores. Charcandrick West, who led the Chiefs in rushing yards in 2015, was 2nd on the team in 2016 with 293 rushing yards. Andy Reid and the Chiefs’ coaching staff were still looking for the replacement for Jamaal Charles, the team’s all-time leading rushing leader, who signed a 1-year deal with the Denver Broncos in May.

Kareem Hunt had just finished the greatest career any running back ever had at the University of Toledo, rushing for 4,945 yards (most in school history) and 44 touchdowns (2nd in school history). The 21-year old running back from Willoughby, Ohio entered the NFL draft in a loaded draft class. He was selected in the 3rd round by the Chiefs with the 86th pick. Hunt was the 6th running back taken in the draft, behind Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and Alvin Kamara.

The NFL is currently in the midst of a rookie running back epidemic. There were 8 running backs taken with the first 3 rounds of the 2017 Draft, doubling the number from the prior draft. In the past three drafts, 19 running backs were taken within the first 3 rounds. In 2016, Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards and finished 177 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s 33-year-old rookie rushing record. Elliott was dynamic, but we may be seeing something different with Kareem Hunt.

Hunt showed some flashes in the preseason, finishing with 111 total yards on just 22 touches in 3 games. With the injury to Spencer Ware, Hunt would be named the starting running back for Week 1 against the Patriots. In his NFL regular season debut, he totaled the same amount of touches as he had in three preseason games, but with much more production. He broke the NFL record for most total yards from scrimmage in an NFL debut with 246 (148 rushing, 98 receiving) and also scored 3 touchdowns. In his third game against the Chargers, he ran for 172 yards and a score. A star was being born.

Through his first 3 games of his career, Kareem Hunt totaled 401 rushing yards (leading the NFL), 137 receiving yards and 6 total touchdowns. If Hunt keeps up this production, he could break Dickerson’s rookie rushing record and the NFL single season rushing record. He is on pace to rush for 2,139 yards as he is averaging 133.7 rushing yards per game. He is also on pace to have 731 receiving yards for the season.

The rookie running back epidemic is not going to end anytime soon, as guys such as Saquon Barkley, Derrius Guice, Royce Freeman and Nick Chubb could all enter the NFL in 2018 in yet another loaded running back class. Only 5 running backs in NFL history have ever led the league in rushing yards in their rookie season: Earl Campbell, George Rogers, Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James and Ezekiel Elliott. Hunt, along with the young backs still in college, could give the rookie rushing leaders’ club some new company. Look out NFL.

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