No matter the competition level, dominant players always turn heads.
Kareem Hunt is no different.
After missing two games due to a suspension and pulling a hamstring that strained his abilities in 2015, Hunt elected to return to college for one more year in 2016. It paid off.
Hunt ripped the Mid-American Conference to shreds for nearly 1,900 scrimmage yards on 303 touches during his senior year and reclaimed his deserved national spotlight. As a sophomore in 2014, Hunt gained over 100 yards rushing in all 10 games played and, had an ankle injury not sabotaged his final three contests of the season, he most certainly would have rushed for well over 2,000 yards. Granted, Toledo does not play many top ranked teams, but 163.1 rushing yards per game at 19-years-old—at any level of FBS—is mind-bending. Including Hunt, only six running backs since 2000 have gained over 100 rushing yards per game in their age-19 season.
Hunt’s resume has not always been stellar, however. Coming out of high school, Hunt was not a top-100 running back in his recruiting class and he was labeled as just a “three-star” prospect. Hunt obviously succeeded in proving his recruiters wrong while at Toledo, but in this stacked 2017 running back draft class, he still has his doubters.
Will Kareem Hunt continue his path to peak prominence? Let’s see what the Yards Created data has to say.A
A quick glimpse of Kareem Hunt’s career game logs shows he was both much improved and more involved as a receiver in 2016 than ever before. In 31 games from 2013-15, Hunt caught just 32 passes (1.03 per contest) and he had just 10 multi-reception games in total.
This past year, Hunt caught 41 balls (3.16 per contest) while matching his career total of multi-catch games (10) in a single year.
Even more, Hunt eclipsed 100 rushing yards in 28 career contests – which put him in a tie for third-most since 2000. Despite the lack of fierce competition at Toledo, it’s tough to ignore Hunt’s level of supremacy and production relative to his age and historical standards.
Toledo’s Yards Blocked and Kareem Hunt’s Yards Created
|Per Att. Data||Yards Blocked/Att.||Yards Created/Att.|
As you may expect from a mid level program, Toledo’s offensive line leaves a lot to be desired. Among all teams in my database, Toledo’s line is fifth-worst in Yards Blocked per Attempt and almost 0.2 yards below the sample average.
That was no matter for Kareem Hunt.
At 5.81 Yards Created/Attempt, Hunt is essentially in a dead heat with Leonard Fournette (5.83), Alvin Kamara (5.82), and D’Onta Foreman (5.81) in the 2017 draft class. What makes Hunt’s case different, however, is both Kamara and Foreman had above average offensive line play in terms of average Yards Blocked while Fournette’s line at LSU was closer to average. Despite the poor blocking, Hunt showed he is so crafty and consistent that he can overcome lackluster talent in the trenches on a per play basis.
The fun is just getting started, though.
Run Type Data
Hunt ran entirely out of shotgun or pistol sets:
There is quite a bit to love about Hunt as both an inside-zone runner and as a back out of shotgun. Most importantly, Kareem Hunt absolutely obliterated his rushes in between the tackles.
Despite Toledo’s poor interior blocking, Kareem Hunt went ahead and posted the second-best figure ever in Yards Created/Attempt on inside-zone rushes (6.12). Among qualified rushers with at least 60 carries in their sample, only Joe Mixon (6.75 YC/A) is a better inside-zone runner than Hunt. Now-Cowboy Ezekiel Elliott led the 2016 class in Yards Created/Attempt on inside carries.
What’s interesting, though, is Hunt is such a great inside runner because of the ferocity and anger he runs with the ball in his hands. Hunt is just a mean dude on the field. The play is never over with him. However, he played at a “listed” weight of 220-230lbs while at Toledo and showed up at the Senior Bowl at 208lbs. There is a long list of backs that dropped weight coming out of college and actually became more agile, lean, and explosive in their lower-half. Hunt may be no different and it is not worth getting caught up in this minor point yet – but NFL teams may want Hunt somewhere around 215-220lbs given his near six-foot frame.
In terms of project-ability, playing exclusively with the quarterback in the backfield does have its advantages. Because the NFL is becoming more pass-heavy and teams are using more three-receiver sets, college running backs must be able to run out of shotgun. Despite being an all-world running back, Adrian Peterson just has not been as effective out of the shotgun in his career. NFL teams do not like unknowns, but we can certainly take solace in the fact Hunt’s 5.82 Yards Created/Attempt from shotgun sets is well above the sample average (5.42). Playing nearly all out of the shotgun isn’t rare, either. Of the backs I have charted over the past two years, 10 running backs have carried the ball over 95% of the time from the shotgun, including Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard.
Defenders in the Box
|7 or fewer||8 or More In Box||Avg. In Box|
Now, Hunt’s Yards Created data has a ton of positives, there needs to be a major dose of context here. While Hunt does deserve a lot of credit for being able to clearly create on his own in spite of a meager offensive line, he did face simple sledding. Due in large part to an aerial attack that put up video game-like numbers in 2016, Hunt took advantage of extraordinarily light defensive boxes.
Among running backs that I have finished charting for the 2017 NFL Draft, Hunt faced seven or fewer defenders in the box on a sample-leading 95% of his attempts. Joe Mixon (94%) and Samaje Perine (92%) are the only backs other than Hunt to face seven or fewer defenders in the box on over 90% of their attempts.
In fairness to Kareem Hunt and in honesty in my process, I’m not sure how predictive this data is. Only time can tell. Still, there is no denying Hunt benefited from few talented and bountiful opponents. For further context, Leonard Fournette created nearly the same amount of yards per attempt (5.83) as Hunt (5.81) while facing eight or more defenders in the box on 67% of his attempts. Hunt only saw 8-plus defenders five percent of the time.
While Hunt couldn’t do anything about his opponents’ alignment and the lowly amount of defenders that he faced is not a red flag in and of itself, he is undoubtedly one of the shiftiest and genuinely fun players I have ever charted. He’s an absolute cheat code.
Missed Tackles Forced
|MTs Forced/Attempt||MTs Forced/Opportunity|
|Average: 0.364||Average: 0.371|
For context here, Kareem Hunt is second only to Joe Mixon (0.577) in missed tackles forced on a per opportunity (rush or target) basis. In this class, only Dalvin Cook (0.453) is comparable to Hunt and Mixon’s dominance in making defenders miss.
As if Hunt’s data could get any more impressive, he actually leads all running backs in Yards Created’s history in missed tackles forced by power (which I define as running through arm wraps and/or defenders). Hunt forced 0.21 missed tackles via power alone in his Yards Created sample – which is more than (now) No. 2 Derrick Henry—who was literally the exception to every rule—and No. 3 D’Onta Foreman, who is about 20-25lbs heavier than Hunt.
What’s special about Hunt isn’t just his power on a slighter frame, though. It’s his elusiveness. Kareem Hunt is the second-most elusive back (defined as “cutting” in space or in tight quarters) on a per attempt basis in my database. That’s right. Not only is Hunt immensely powerful, he also has ample hip flexibility and explosiveness to make defenders look, well, rather defenseless.
It’s rare when you can find a running back that can pack a punch at an elite rate and have equally abundant elusiveness. Luckily for Kareem Hunt, he has two major calling cards.
Route Run Data
Continuing his theme of dominance, Hunt excelled as a receiver at Toledo in 2016, too.
Granted, Hunt had plenty of room for improvement after barely averaging one reception/game in his freshman through junior years, but Hunt’s balance as a runner may shine most when he is in open space and has the ball in his hands. Hunt has natural poise as a receiver and his ruthless elusiveness shined when targeted in the passing game. I mean, just look at how he ruined this poor NIU defenders’ life in space. Accordingly, no player in my database forced more missed tackles by elusiveness on a per target basis than Hunt.
What’s more, at 6.43 receiving yards gained per pass route, Hunt is once again second only to Joe Mixon (10.70) in Yards Created’s two-year history. Not only did Hunt excel in ever facet of his game on a per carry basis, but his year-over-year improvement in the passing game also paid massive dividends.
Pass Protection Execution (PPE)
|Pass Pro Att.||Pass Pro Execution%|
The lone semi-weak spot in Hunt’s game is in pass protection. As always, though, it’s rare for a running back to come out of college fully prepared to protect the quarterback without any qualms. With three quarterback pressures allowed, Kareem Hunt showed he has more than enough willingness and aggression to play protector – he just needs refinement is all. The sample average PPE is 79%.
Finding a Direction
In a stacked running back class, Kareem Hunt is sure to have some variance in his round-by-round projections. Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette will soak up a ton of the conversation at the top and rightfully so, but on a surface-level, Hunt isn’t miles behind the top of this class. While Fournette has his explosiveness and strong data while playing injured in his corner and Dalvin Cook is the best running back out of shotgun I have ever charted, Hunt’s calling cards are his power, balance through initial contact, and elusiveness in space.
To be clear, given the level of competition and the lowly amount of defenders he faced in the box, Kareem Hunt’s incredibly strong data does need to be taken with tentative enthusiasm. Hunt certainly looks the part, though. Because this class is so deep unlike last year, Hunt may have to wait a bit to hear his name called in the draft. However, when it is all said and done, Kareem Hunt may end up being an incredible value in today’s NFL. He has it all.
(Originally posted February 2017 at Fantasy Guru).