Kareem Hunt has great rookie season and captures the NFL Rushing crown

First impressions often tell a lot. Judging by the first impression Kareem Hunt made on the Kansas City Chiefs, he should not now be in a tight race for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

Kareem Hunt fumbled on his very first NFL carry. It was an inauspicious beginning for the third-round pick with the low-profile background from Toledo.

But Hunt didn’t let it bother him and rebounded for three touchdowns as the Chiefs stunned the defending champion Patriots 42-27 in the season opener. Hunt’s 246 total yards set an NFL record for the most yards from scrimmage for a first career game.

“I couldn’t be more happy with how I responded after a fumble and came back and played my heart out,” Hunt said.

The breakout game got Kareem Hunt the cover of a Sports Illustrated issue featuring the resurgent class of 2017 running backs. The solid rookie class counts four rookies among the top ten rushers, according to Pro Football Focus grading.

Kareem Hunt wound up winning the NFL rushing title with 1,327 yards. A 35-yard touchdown run on his only carry in the season finale at Denver lifted Hunt to the crown.

As he continued to pile up the yardage and touchdowns, Kareem Hunt became the talk of the league and a strong Rookie of the Year favorite.

But Hunt remained humble and focused on team success, as the Chiefs ran out to a 5-0 start.

“I just like to win,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. If I have success, that’s what it is, but I just like helping my team win and doing whatever it takes.”

Coach Andy Reid wasn’t surprised by Hunt’s success.

“We have a lot of trust in him and think he’s doing well,” he said.  “I think he’s doing a heck of a job. You’re getting a complete back is what you’re getting. He’s not just a ball carrier. That’s the thing that’s important.”

The attention also meant defenses focused more on Hunt.

“Everybody has their eye on me and I have a target on my back, but I’m ready for it,” he said.  “I am excited for it.”

Defensive pressure and some inconsistent offensive line play brought Hunt and the Chiefs back down to Earth.  After sprinting for 775 yards and six touchdowns, rushing and receiving, in that 5-0 start, Hunt fell to just 71.3 yards per game with no scores during the Chiefs’ 1-6 mid-season slump.

In December, Hunt has bounced back as the Chiefs won four straight to capture back-to-back division titles for the first time in franchise history.  In those four victories, he had 485 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns, nearly matching his torrid pace from the first five games.

As Kareem Hunt goes, so go the Chiefs.  KC is 7-0 when he rushes for at least 100 yards, carries the ball at least 20 times or scores a rushing touchdown.  When Hunt doesn’t score, doesn’t rush for 100 yards or get 20 totes, the team is 0-6.

In nine Chiefs wins, not counting the last one where he left after one carry with the rushing title clinched, Hunt averaged 113 yards on 22 carries, with seven scores.  In the six losses, it is 45.8 yards on 12 carries per game, and he has not reached the end zone.

During his December streak, Hunt reached a trio of milestones.

In the 26-15 win over the Raiders in Week 14, he became the second Chiefs rookie to rush for 1,000 yards, joining Joe Delaney.

“I set some early goals,” Hunt said, “with the biggest thing being I wanted to put the team in a winning position.  I just wanted to make the most of my opportunity and definitely wanted to get over 1,000 yards as a rookie.  I just wanted to contribute to the team.”

Then, with 155 yards in the 30-13 win over the Chargers in Week 15, Hunt eclipsed Joe Delaney’s rookie rushing record of 1,121 set in 1981.

He was selected to the Pro Bowl.

“It’s a great feeling, a great opportunity for me,” Hunt said. “The top guys get to go to something like this.  It just means a lot to me.

“I feel like I learned a lot about the game. Being able to recognize defenses and see what teams are doing, so, more experience.”

He is also back into the Rookie of the Year spotlight, probably the favorite to take home the hardware. Hunt is also a good receiver with 455 yards on 53 receptions and three touchdowns.

Hunt’s success is a big reason the Chiefs offense ranks fifth in points and sixth in yardage, their best marks since 2005.

One of Hunt’s best traits is his ability to break tackles.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kareem Hunt ranks first in the NFL with 47 forced missed tackles as a runner and second with 556 yards after contact.

“I feel like I was kind of born with it,” Hunt said of his ability to maintain his balance through contact.  “But I feel like I got better as my years of football kept going.  Always try to stay up on my feet.”

He also excels in avoiding hard contact.

“It’s really angles and leverage, pretty much,” Hunt said. “You’ve got to recognize who you’re going against and how to take on a tackle.”

Spencer Ware’s injury opened the door for Hunt to start. Ware was lost for the season due to a torn PCL during a pre-season game against the Seahawks.

“I always believe in myself,” he said. “I always think that I am going to make something happen. When Ware went down, I had the opportunity to step in and fill the role. I never want a teammate to get hurt or anything.  He is a great player.  He has been helping me out and coaching me up through some things.”

As the Chiefs prepare for their third straight playoff appearance, they may be enjoying the first season of their next great running back, and their first offensive Rookie of the Year since Abner Haynes won the award for the Dallas Texans in the franchise’s first year in 1960 in the AFL.

To read more about the Chiefs, check out more of our articles at: http://kcsportspaper.com/category/pro-teams

Make sure to join our fan club to receive free digital copies of our monthly magazine to read about the Chiefs, Royals, and all the rest of our local teams and fitness articles. Keep up with us by liking/following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Article by Marc Bowman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *