Week 1 Weekly Workhorse: Kareem Hunt

Want to turn the NFL and Fantasy Football world on its head? Follow these three simple steps, brought to you by Kansas City Chiefs Running Back Kareem Hunt

1.) Be the first rookie to catch a 75+ yard receiving TD in Week One.

2.) Be the first rookie to have 75+ yards rushing and 75+ yards receiving in their debut.

3.) Set a rookie running back record for most yards from scrimmage with 246.

The search for my Weekly Workhorse barely lasted three hours as Hunt was written in marker before the clock hit double zeroes, taking the league by storm with his record crushing debut. It was a perfect storm of circumstances; Hunt took over the lion’s share of snaps on the heels of Spencer Ware’s knee injury, faced an increasingly depleted and disorganized New England Patriots defense, and displayed a well-rounded skill-set to take advantage of these factors on all three downs.

When the Chiefs’ traded to select Hunt in the 3rd Round with the 86th overall pick, which looking back now looks like highway robbery, the thought was that Hunt would share snaps with Ware and eventually take the lead role. Eventually is here, right now, and according to my big board, which had Hunt listed as a late 2nd round talent and 86th overall, the Chiefs did indeed get a steal and possibly an ever bigger one than I projected. Hunt caught the eyes of evaluators by becoming third on the all-time MAC rushing list with 4,945 career yards and kept that momentum going at the Senior Bowl by displaying top-notch balance through contact, vision, anticipation and a finisher’s mentality.

Looking back at his college career, there are hints that we all should have seen this breakout coming. In 44 games Hunt rushed for over 100 yards on a healthy 28 occasions while recording 12 multi-score games and averaging 6.3ypc on 782 carries. As a receiving threat, there wasn’t nearly the dynamic production one would assume from his TNF performance. For his career, Hunt averaged only 1.65 receptions, 12.6 yards, and .02 touchdowns per game. He saw an increased role in the passing game during his senior season, recording career highs of 41 receptions, 403 yards, and his sole receiving score, better than all of his previous seasons combined.

Let’s look at how and why the rookie earned himself Weekly Workhouse honors…

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In the above clip, the Chiefs get 3-on-3 to the right side of the formation with LG Bryan Witzmann (#70) sealing the MIKE linebacker. First, notice how C Mitch Morse (#61) gets off his double team and gets to the second level. Second, notice how Hunt (#27) sets up Morse’s block by peeking inside, getting the filling defender sucked up to Morse, then darting to the right. Hunt does everything right here on his first NFL carry… and then he fumbles.

You’re a rookie, forced into a starting role in your first NFL game against the defending Super Bowl champions, and on your first carry tragedy strikes. The weight of that mistake is heavy and it takes a special, mentally tough player to rebound. This is what makes or breaks men in this league. They must have the competitive toughness to have the worst happen, only to rebound and play the next rep as if the last never happened.

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On the next offensive series the Chiefs decide to give Hunt the ball on the first snap and it results in a positive 9 yard gain. They were able to get a numbers advantage here after shifting formations from strong to Ace with tight right, then motioning FB Anthony Sherman (#42) to the right for a 6-on-5. Morse and Witzmann work in conjunction to wash out the 0-tech defender and Morse takes care of the MIKE linebacker again.

On his fourth step Hunt decisively darts inside while taking contact from the backside pursuit. Maintaining balance through contact is Hunt’s calling card and it’s on full display here as his body gets nearly horizontal to the ground, but he is still able to regather himself for extra yards. This is a pivotal rep on the heels of disaster that will help Hunt put the past behind him and work towards a virtuoso performance.

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The situation: Down 17-7, 2nd Quarter, 2nd & 3, 16 seconds on the clock with two timeouts. With trips left the Chiefs get Hunt matched up one-on-one with DB Jordan Richards (#37). This is a matchup you want every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Richards takes a step towards the LOS, anticipating run, and he’s already beat with Hunt flying to the flats to the left.

From the trips left, the Chiefs run Double China, a feature of many teams’ redzone playbook. The two outside receivers run short dig routes, while the inside receiver works for a corner route. This provides traffic in which the DB Richards must navigate, furthering his disadvantage. Hunt makes an easy catch and stretch for 6.

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4th quarter, it’s crunch time with the Chiefs down 27-21 from their own 22 yard-line with 14:47 remaining. Competitive toughness is something we touched on earlier, with Hunt rebounding perfectly from a massive setback, but you can’t just put one mistake behind you and call it a day. You must show up in critical moments and make an impact.

Pre-snap the Chiefs bring WR Tyreek Hill (#10) in motion, bringing the SAF down hard which leaves Hunt one-on-one with DE Cassius Marsh (#55). Cassius Clay aka Muhammed Ali might have had the foot speed to stay with Hunt, in his prime, but Marsh has zero chance against Hunt with no help over the top. Marsh runs a 4.89 and while there are questions about Hunt’s long speed (4.62 at the combine), Hunt still has Marsh by .27 in the sprinting department, which in the NFL might as well be a mile in a millisecond for a 78 yard touchdown catch.

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The Chiefs have taken the lead 28-27 with 5:19 left in the 4th quarter. It’s first down, ball on the NE 4 yard-line. A score here is a backbreaker and that’s what Hunt provides. The Chiefs condense their formation, bringing their wide receivers in, and run a simple toss to Hunt into space. This is where Hunt once again shows off his superior balance, shedding contact to his strong lower body like butter in a cast iron pan and reaching the ball out just InsidethePylon.com.

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It’s now 35-28 Chiefs with 4 minutes left. This is where you need to put a game away and break an opponent’s back and Hunt is more than willing to oblige. They again come out with a condensed formation, this time with three tight ends bunched to the left, the same look they used on Hunt’s first run and fumble. This time they run a crack toss with TE Travis Kelce (#87) and LT Eric Fisher (#72) pulling for pancakes and cut blocks in space. Hunt shows enough burst to outrun the linebacker pursuit before finally being tracked down and pushed out of bounds by safety Devin McCourty (#32). One play later fellow RB Charcandrick West (#35) would put the game on ice with a 21 yard touchdown run.
Kareem Hunt was the beneficiary of a lot of factors this game. A depleted-by-injury Patriots defense that lost key pieces, an offensive line that played lights out, a vertical passing game and a dynamic complement in Tyreek Hill that gave the Patriots fits… but at the end of the day, Hunt showed the mental fortitude, the top-notch balance, the burst, leg drive and versatility in the passing game that led to statistically the best performance we have seen from a rookie in NFL history.

All told Hunt ran 17 times for 148 yards (8.7ypc) and 1 touchdown while catching 5 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. It started with a fumble. It ended with a bang.

Check out Michael on Twitter or with the Locked On Eagles podcast.

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