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Rewind: Kareem Hunt’s Chiefs career

SB Nation logo SB Nation 9/21/2020 Barry Shuck
a man wearing a hat © Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Thursday Night’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals 35-30, a few things came into the light that hadn’t been seen before.

The Browns’ highly-touted offense finally showed why so much ink had been dedicated to it. And within these highlights was a new shining light: RB Kareem Hunt.

Each game, Hunt has played sparingly. Against the Bengals, he was used on just 20 plays. And within those 20 snaps, he scored two touchdowns, carried the ball 10 times for 86 yards, captured an 8.6 yards per carry average, plus had two catches for 15 yards – one of which was one of his duo scores.

Hunt played just 34% of the snaps while starting tailback Nick Chubb had 36 snaps for 62% of playing time. Against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 1’s loss, Hunt had 36 snaps to Chubb’s 35 and outgained Chubb 72 yards rushing to 60.

Replay Video

With the Bengals victory, the Browns discovered they had yet another offensive weapon in Hunt.

But the truth is, they don’t just have the guy who will come in when Chubb needs a breather. They possess a superstar on the roster.

Chiefs’ superstar

Kareem Hunt was born in Elyria, Ohio just west of Cleveland. He attended South High School in Willoughby, Ohio, about 24 miles east of Cleveland. He rushed for over 5,000 yards in his junior and senior seasons alone plus scored 83 touchdowns. He had many scholarship offers, but narrowed his list down to the University of Pittsburgh, University of Cincinnati, Bowling Green State University, University of Toledo, and Ohio University.

He chose Toledo because of the opportunity to play as a freshman, the coaching staff, plus it was close enough so that his family could travel and watch him play on Saturdays. Even though schools such as Pitt and Cincinnati were much larger programs, Toledo offered the chance to play early. As a freshman in addition to playing special teams, he played in all 12 games with three starts as a running back and had 137 carries for 866 yards with six touchdowns.

He busted out in his sophomore year with 1,631 yards on 205 carries with 16 touchdowns. His senior season was what really told the story of his future pro career. Hunt had 262 rushing carries for 1,475 yards with 10 TD’s, but was also a very valuable asset in the passing game - which was something new for Hunt. He had 41 receptions for 403 yards with a touchdown and brought out the attention of his excellent pass catching abilities. He was named two-time First Team All-MAC.

The Kansas City Chiefs took QB Patrick Mahomes in Round 1 and Hunt in the third-round of the 2017 NFL draft. During training camp, he was listed third behind starter Spencer Ware and free agent signee C.J. Spiller. Another back, Charchandrick West, had some starts and was a returning RB. By the third pre-season game, Hunt and West were listed neck-and-neck as Ware’s backup. Towards the end of the pre-season, Ware suffered a season-ending knee injury.

a crowd of people watching a football ball on a field © Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

West had a good camp while Spiller was a veteran and looked very quick in pre-season. In the Chiefs’ opener against the New England Patriots, Hunt was named the starter by head coach Andy Reid. At the time, Reid said this about inserting not only a rookie, but a third-round rookie as his starting running back:

“I think we’re going to be OK there. Now, are we going to replace Spence? No. I mean, he’s a good football player. But the young kid, he’ll step in and he’ll do a nice job for us. Most likely, again we’ll rotate all of them, but Hunt will probably be working with the ones.”

Chiefs’ starting QB Alex Smith said this about losing Ware:

“Spencer was so good at everything. He was good in space, a good receiver for a bigger guy, physical runner but nimble enough in space to hit the edge … it will definitely be tough to replace him.”

Hunt had three things that the other running backs did not possess: pass catching abilities, he did not fumble, and he was dependable with pass protection.

The Patriots were defending Super Bowl LI champions for Hunt’s first-ever NFL contest. The Chiefs dismantled New England 42-27 while Hunt busted out for 148 yards and a touchdown. In addition, he had 98 receiving yards with two additional touchdowns for 246 total yards from scrimmage – an NFL record for a debut performance.

Kansas City defeated the Los Angeles Chargers 24-10 in Week 3. Hunt amassed 172 rushing yards for a 10.1 average and scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown. The Chiefs went 4-0-0 in September and during this assent, Hunt led the NFL with 536 yards from scrimmage. For the month of September, Hunt was named AFC Offensive Player-of-the-Month. Not bad for a third-rounder just fighting for a roster spot.

Hunt gained 117 yards against the Oakland Raiders in Game 7 – his seventh straight 100-yard performance. He was ranked third for the rushing title going into the final game of the season against the Denver Broncos, and with a 35-yard gain was crowned the NFL rushing leader with 1,327 yards. In addition, he secured 53 receptions for 455 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns.

a person holding a football ball © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

On December 19, Hunt was announced as the starter for the AFC Pro Bowl squad. Not bad for a rookie. In the NFL Top 100 Players annual list, Hunt was ranked number 33. He was also named to the NFL All-Rookie Team and was named Rookie-of-the-Year by the Pro Football Writer’s of America, and organization of beat writers which cover every NFL game.

The Chiefs didn’t have any issues with Hunt as a runner. He only fumbled once in college and had impressed teammates, coaches and observers in training camp with his quickness, vision, contact balance and catching ability, often showing the reasons the Chiefs traded up in the third-round to draft him in May. During the 2017 season, he only fumbled once.

Chiefs’ superstar Part 2

Kansas City went 10-6-0 in Hunt’s rookie year and were leading their Wild Card Playoff Game 21-3 before losing 22-21 to the Tennessee Titans. For 2018, Hunt came into training camp as the obvious starting running back.

Veteran QB Alex Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins. Newly-installed signalcaller Mahomes was now the starter. The Chiefs reeled off five victories to begin the season, lost to the Patriots and then went on another tear by winning their next four games.

All the while, Coach Reid was using Hunt as a primary receiver and developed other options such as receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins plus tight end Travis Kelce. Mahomes was already looking like a seasoned veteran.

Sitting at 9-1-0 going into Week 11 against the Los Angeles Rams on November 19, the offensive output of the Chiefs was staggering. The Rams won a shootout 54-51 and eventually would play lose to New England in the Super Bowl.

a group of people playing football on a field © Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

After the Rams’ loss, the week after was the Chiefs’ bye week.

At that time, Hunt was the NFL rushing leader once again with 181 carries for 824 yards, a 4.6 yards per carry average, plus 26 receptions for 378 yards and a 14.5 yards per catch average. Hunt also scored 14 touchdowns with zero fumbles.

And then, it happened

A surveillance camera at the Metropolitan Hotel in Cleveland had captured video that displayed Hunt in a hallway getting into a confrontation with a 19-year old woman who had just left his room. During the video sequence, friends of Hunt attempted to intervene the incident and restrain him. An apparent argument occured, and then Hunt shoved the woman to which she struck him in the face. Hunt then went berserk.

As his friends attempt to hold him back, Hunt knocks one of his friends into the woman and forced them both into a wall. While the woman is obviously dazed on the floor. Hunt made his way over to her and kicked her in the leg thus knocking the young woman over.

Cleveland Police were called, but no arrest was made. In the incident report, cops at the scene could not determine if a crime had been committed.

TMZ was the source which released the video. The Hunt video had just came off the heals of the Ray Rice video in which the talented Baltimore Ravens’ running back was released and never played another down in the NFL.

When questioned by Clark Hunt (no relation), the owner of the Chiefs, Kareem Hunt lied about his involvement. Then news broke that he had lied about the incident. Apparently, Hunt wasn’t aware that video evidence existed. On November 30, despite being the current NFL rushing champ plus leading the league in consecutive seasons, Kansas City released him.

After Hunt was caught lying to his employers about the entire incident, when questioned, he stated:

“They believed that I lied to them. I lied to them. They pretty much said, we love you, everybody cares about you, and just we have to let you go. It was a tough conversation. And the Chiefs did what was right. I made a poor decision and I’m willing to take full responsibility.”

No charges were ever filed on Hunt by law enforcement. The NFL, however, suspended him for the first eight games of 2019. That is, if anyone wanted to sign him. Rice never even had another suitor much less played.

Former Chiefs’ GM John Dorsey, now the Browns GM, signed Hunt despite the suspension.

And now?

Hunt was a superstar with the Chiefs. If if wasn’t for Chubb being such an excellent running back, Hunt would be the unquestioned starter.

For comparisons, Chubb last season was the leading rusher headed into the final week of the season. He was sparsely used against the league’s worst run defense and lost the title to Derrick Henry of the Titans. Chubb finished with 1,494 yards on 298 carries, a 5.0 yards per carry average with eight touchdowns. He also netted 36 receptions for 278 yards and zero touchdown catches. And, he was named to the Pro Bowl just like Hunt plus was voted number 36 on the NFL 100 list.

That may a dandy situation for OC Alex Van Pelt and head coach Kevin Stefanski as Cleveland has lots of offensive weapons. Dusting off the dust to a forgotten treasure is always a good thing. With Stefanski calling the plays, he now must realize Hunt’s potential.

Or does he?

This year, the Browns are one of the few teams which feature a fullback. They traded a seventh-round pick with the Broncos for FB Andy Janovich, a powerful blocker. Cleveland is built for the run.

a female football player on a field © Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

If Chubb was ever injured, Hunt can replace him without the offense ever skipping a beat. But since both are not hurt, is the plan just to plug in Hunt to give Chubb a blow? Or how does Stefanski get them both on the field?

Perhaps a glimpse of teams in the Browns’ past can provide an answer.

From 1958-1961, Cleveland had the best running back tandem in the league with Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell. Brown was stocky at 6’-2” and 232 pounds while Mitchell was smaller at 6’-0”, 192 pounds but quick after being a former track star. Together, they wrecked havoc for defenses trying to gameplan both backs.

But Brown was listed as the fullback. Mitchell was the halfback. In Cleveland’s situation today, Janovich is the starting fullback. Of course, he is no Jim Brown. Chubb is 5’-11”, 227 pounds while Hunt is 5’-11”, 216 pounds so their physique is similar. If Stefanski wanted to put Hunt and Chubb in the same backfield, Janovich would have to ride the sideline. The Browns didn’t sign him to sit and not block.

So, what can Stefanski do to keep them both on the field?

Chubb is going to be the starting tailback - that we know. But could Hunt be lined up in the slot as a receiver? Could he become the third wide receiver and be lined up outside? Currently, Rashard Higgins and KhaDarel Hodge are filling that role. But would Hunt be a better option?

In Higgins’ best season he only gained 572 yards on 39 receptions with just four TD’s. In Hunt’s rookie season with the Chiefs, he outdistanced those numbers (with the exception of total yardage) and he was the full-time running back with those responsibilities to boot. So, Hunt could play receiver.

If that damning video never surfaced, or if the incident never actually occurred, Hunt would have a Super Bowl ring, probably two NFL rushing titles, and would be the very first player taken in NFL fantasy drafts.

So, where do the Browns proceed with two superstar running backs? Stay tuned.

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