Rookie running back Kareem Hunt is ready to step into key role for Chiefs

Kareem Hunt is in the perfect place as a Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back. Not only does he share a last name with the owner of the team, his skill set fits exactly what the Chiefs need.

He’s a versatile, pass-catching running back with the ability to run through or around defenders. And with all-time leading rusher Jamaal Charles gone to the rival Denver Broncos, Hunt is ready to step right in and contribute right away.

“He is a smart kid,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He is picking it up. That is a tough position, because we ask the running back to do a lot of stuff. I like the way he is going about it. I have been around a lot of good backs and smart backs, and he is right in there. He picks it up quickly.”

Kareem Hunt was drafted in the third round. Among a draft class that was all about “the future” for the Chiefs, Hunt is the lone draftee who likely will play a key role in 2017. The Chiefs traded up 17 spots to select quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who will watch Alex Smith from the sideline this season. Defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon is a physical freak whose name will slip past spellcheck before he sees much of the field. Fourth-round pick wide receiver Jehu Chesson is showing flashes in training camp, but he’s the fourth receiver at best. Later-round picks are almost always projects.

But the selection of Kareem Hunt was lauded from the minute his name was announced.

Mel Kiper of ESPN said guys like Hunt are the reason he never recommends taking a running back in the first round. “If you can get a guy like Kareem Hunt in round three, (why take one early)? He’s a whale of a pick. He can have an impact rookie campaign.”

Louis Riddick, another NFL analyst for ESPN, compared Hunt to Emmitt Smith, the NFL all-time leading rusher. “He’s got that kind of a lower body,” Riddick said. “He has great hands out of the backfield. I know Kansas City is ecstatic about getting this guy.”

The high expectations don’t faze Hunt.

“I think I can compete with some of the best of the best,” he said. “I am a guy that is always going to work hard and never give up. It is just exciting to be out here and do this. I feel like I’m always ready.I feel like I can come in at any time and produce.”

Kareem Hunt is a solid 5-11, 216 pounds, and he rushed for a school-record 4,945 yards (6.3 yards per carry) at Toledo. He rushed 262 times for 1,475 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games in 2016. He also caught 73 passes for 555 yards in his collegiate career.

He’s got the speed to get around the end and the power to run up the middle.

“It depends on the situation and the mood I’m in,” he said of his preference. “The down and distance matters. But if you need to get to the goal line, I’m definitely not afraid of the contact.”

There is definitely a need for an every-down back in Kansas City. Last year’s leading rusher was Spencer Ware with 921 yards (4.3 yards per carry), followed by Charcandrick West with 293 yards (3.3 yards per carry). The Chiefs have long been known as a team that depends on a solid running attack, so someone who can gain big yardage will be essential.

The Chiefs will use him as a runner, and Reid really likes him as a pass-catcher. Kareem Hunt is pleased with that proposition.

“I definitely feel comfortable with catching the ball out the backfield,” Hunt said. “Pass-catching was one of the things I worked hard (on) during the offseason. I talked to my coaches at Toledo and told them I could get more involved in the receiving game. I felt I could get open and make people miss in open space.

“I was definitely aware that (the Chiefs) like to use their running backs in the passing game because of Jamaal Charles, (Spencer) Ware and all of those guys. It is just exciting to be a part of something like this, getting there in space. I like catching the ball out the backfield.”

Reid certainly is impressed so far.

“He looks pretty good,” Reid said. “He’s put together well. He has a very strong lower body, we saw that at Toledo. We’re expecting good things from him; we’ll just have to see. He’s young. We just have to keep teaching him.”

His versatility, and his dreads hairstyle, will remind folks of Charles, who rushed for 7,260 yards as a Chief. Hunt smiled, when he was told he might remind some of Charles. But he didn’t miss a step with his response.

“That kind of inspires me, because Jamaal is a great running back,” he said. “He’s going to be forever remembered as a Chief. But I honestly want to be my own guy and just take advantage of what I can do and make my own name for myself.

“I think I can do it all. I want to be a great pass-catcher, a great route-runner, a great runner between-the-tackles. That’s just me. I don’t want to have any (label) attached to my name.”

Besides confidence, another thing going for Hunt is his ability to speak the company line. When asked about the competition for the starting running back position, his response sounded like it was written by the PR staff.

“We are always trying to help each other, no matter what,” he said. “We are a big family. Whatever we think we can get better at, they will help me. If I have something to say I will try to give them a tip or something like that. We always want the best for each other.”

With the regular season quickly approaching, Hunt is getting ready with the rest of his fellow running backs.

“EB (running backs coach Eric Bieniemy) is very demanding of them,” Reid said. “He comes right after them. He’s been there, he’s done it. They’re like sponges right now, absorbing everything.”Hunt said he’s going to be ready when called upon.

“I am feeling like I am getting up to speed,” he said. “I am getting way more comfortable with the plays and just trying to get better every day.”

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Article by David Smale

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