2017 was supposed to be a season of turmoil for the Kansas City Chiefs. From a series of unfortunate events, it looked like the New England Patriots would once again run away with the #1 seed in the AFC. And why not when Kansas City had the offseason they had?
They released Jeremy Maclin.
They moved on from team icon Jamaal Charles.
They lost Dontari Poe to the Falcons.
They fired their general manager.
They lost Spencer Ware for the season.
They traded up for Patrick Mahomes in the first round, which seemed to signal the end for Alex Smith.
With what had occurred, skeptics arose, and it was deserved. With the Oakland Raiders on the rise and analysts (including me) predicting the Los Angeles Chargers would make noise in the division, it seemed like the Andy Reid era would decline and struggle to keep up with the competition.
*That* was before the regular season began.
Four weeks later, the Kansas City Chiefs have the best record in the NFL, and remain the only undefeated team. Andy Reid is a frontrunner for Coach of the Year, Alex Smith is getting MVP considerations, and despite losing prized safety Eric Berry for the season, they have managed to hold their own, upsetting the Patriots in week 1 while holding the fort at home with tough wins against the Eagles and Redskins.
Of course, the key ingredient is the sensational third round rookie running back out of Toledo, Kareem Hunt.
Originally the backup to Ware, Hunt immediately became the starter when Ware was lost for 2017 with a knee injury. Against the Patriots, his first carry was a lost fumble, something he had never done in college. What immediately followed was one of the greatest beginnings to a rookie season of all time.
Through 4 games, Hunt has rushed for 502 yards on 68 carries (the only back to have at least 400 so far), giving him 125.5 yards per game and 7.4 yards per attempt to start the season, with four rushing touchdowns. In the receiving game, he’s caught 13 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns. In total, he has 659 total yards from scrimmage (2nd most from any player in their first four games behind Billy Sims’ 745 yards in 1980), six total touchdowns, and 164.8 scrimmage yards per game.
Kareem Hunt isn’t just the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year; He should be the favorite for Most Valuable Player.
Hunt has already skyrocketed to the echelon of great active running backs. On a team that lacks a true WR1, his impact gives the Chiefs a massive weapon to go along with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. These three options combined with the unpredictable misdirection genius of Andy Reid have given Kansas City one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
On a team with a top 3 tight end and a big offensive weapon, Hunt has been the offense’s best player. He creates mismatches everywhere he goes, and he offers sensational traits as shown below.
Hunt’s most recognizable trait is the way he’s able to break tackles. He is an intelligent runner that can work the short gaps and create yardage when asked to.
On this play, Hunt is sent up the middle, working a tight gap and leaping away as he breaks a shoestring tackle. He stumbles, but executes perfect balance, giving the Chiefs even better field position in the process.
While Hunt breaks tackles like Marshawn Lynch or Jay Ajayi as a runner, in the pass game he has the range of Le’Veon Bell or Devonta Freeman.
He’s also shown he has great hands in the pass game. Hunt has a gift of adjusting on the accuracy of a throw without breaking stride. This pass is thrown behind him and near the safety Malcolm Jenkins. Without hesitation, he grabs the pass as if it were thrown precisely, and breaks a few tackles for an impressive first down.
This play is similar. Although it doesn’t look like much, the pass is not thrown accurately. Hunt is wide open with no one near him, yet has to jump up and grab the ball. He does so, again without breaking any stride, making this play look extremely easy as he walks into the end zone.
Kareem Hunt is a superior back to Spencer Ware. That’s not a slight on Ware, as he has been a quality back himself. It’s that Hunt has been the perfect back for an Andy Reid offense.
#27 can literally be schemed and positioned anywhere on offense, whether it be in the backfield, the slot, outside, short, intermediate, on a fly route, or a straight vertical route, the man can do it all.
Hunt’s career long touchdown was a go ahead 75-yard bomb from Alex Smith. He has the vertical speed and trust as a receiving back so that Reid can continue to spread him on these deep routes.
On this play, which is originally a 3 WR set, Hunt is motioned as an outside receiver. He turns around and catches the bubble screen from Smith and does some Kareem Hunt things like slip past tackles and move the chains. Hunt’s skill set is in the ball park of the best backs of the 2010s’, including Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliot. and Reid has made sure to take advantage of this.
On paper, the Chiefs don’t have a lot of weapons. The offensive line certainly isn’t good, and they have no true WR1. But in practice, it’s all come together. Alex Smith playing more efficiently than seasons past, the excellent possessive ability of Travis Kelce, the vertical speed of Tyreek Hill, and Andy Reid’s ability to do more with less makes for a strong group alone. With Kareem Hunt now added in the mix, this group is much greater than the sum of its parts.
None of the quarterback canditates have really broken out yet, or have had the impressive and extremely consistent start the rookie out of Toledo has had. But will a healthy Hunt continue to put up these jaw dropping stats every game? It’s hard to say. Some of the upcoming defenses include the Texans, Broncos and Giants, and the Chiefs certainly have a challenging schedule ahead of them.
What is important though, is #27 gives Kansas City a mismatch that makes it impossible for defenses to predict what is coming. He has made this offense nearly unstoppable through four weeks, and he should be rewarded as such in spite of his rookie status.
Forget being the frontrunner for Offensive Rookie of the Year or Offensive Player of the Year. Kareem Hunt is the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player through a quarter of the 2017 NFL season.
Featured image via fanragsports.com