First-year running back Kareem Hunt established himself as a legitimate ball carrier in the NFL last season in a big way. The 22-year-old from the University of Toledo in Ohio led the league in rushing yards in 2017, and is looking to build off of that for his sophomore season. Hunt was drafted to compete with Spencer Ware and to more or less lighten Ware’s load. During a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, Ware tore his PCL, and the job was Hunt’s to lose.
After never having issues with holding onto the ball in college, the Pro Bowl running back gave Kansas City Chiefs fans a big scare after he fumbled away his very first carry in the league during the season opener at the New England Patriots. After that first turnover, it seemed Hunt was determined to not let that set him back in his debut or for the rest of his season. Hunt finished the opener to his career with 148 rushing yards with another 98 through the air and three touchdowns. He paved the way for a widely unexpected win for the Chiefs in Week 1, and set the tone for his season to come. He didn’t fumble again for the remainder of 2017.
Hunt finished on top of all running backs last season with 1,327 yards on the ground, 22 more than first-team All-Pro Todd Gurley. Hunt added another 455 yards receiving, reaching the end zone 11 times. Not a bad impression for a rookie and he implanted himself as a legitimate rushing threat in the NFL quick, fast, and in a hurry.
Headed into 2018, there is a new face under center for the Chiefs and this offense has high expectations. Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes gets the nod after the Chiefs traded Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins after their early playoff exit last season. Mahomes brings a different style to the passing game in Kansas City, which should open up the field and allow Hunt to stay successful in his rushing attack.
I don’t anticipate Hunt leading the league in rushing again, but look for him to be one of the running backs in today’s game that avoid the sophomore slump and maintain their production for their first two years. With Ware returning, and the Chiefs adding a slew of running backs during the offseason, you should see Hunt’s total amount of carries reduced. However, with the new look offense in Kansas City, the field should be more open and Hunt can continue around his 4.9 yards per carry. I just feel this offense is going to have an air it out first type of game plan, and it will cut into Hunt’s opportunities on the ground.
Also, you should look for Hunt to be used more in the passing attack for the Chiefs. While 455 receiving yards as a rookie running back in the league is nothing to bat an eye at, that number should only go up in 2018. I expect Hunt’s rushing yards total to decrease as there are more weapons in the backfield and head coach Andy Reid has other viable options to give Hunt more rest and keep him healthy. With Mahomes at quarterback, the Chiefs will look to throw the ball more often and not rely so heavily on the run game. Expect Hunt’s receiving yards to go up as he should come close to 1,000 yards through the air, to go along with his 1,000+ yards rushing.
Hunt is a top 10 running back in the NFL, you could even make a case for top five and I expect him to have another pro bowl season in 2018. If Mahomes doesn’t pan out to what the Chiefs and their fans hope him to be, look for the offense to put the weight on Hunt to lead the way. Hunt will rush for over 1,000 yards and catch and run for 800 more with 20 total touchdowns this season. If Mahomes can do his part, Hunt stays healthy and this Chiefs team wins 11 or 12 games this season, look for Hunt to be in the running for MVP.