Kareem Hunt is a power back. That was far from my impression of him before watching his film. Hunt is not a classic power back like Jerome Bettis and he doesn’t run people over or seek contact. He is only 5’11”, 216 lbs. Instead, his power comes from his absolutely absurd Balance. Everything he does stems from that. Hunt has an uncanny ability to stay on his feet after hits that would take down every other back in the league. He can tip-toe the sideline to get to pylon or add extra yardage to plays. His balance alone can lead to absurd stats on an offense like the Chiefs and makes him an above average running back.
Frankly, labelling him as a power back is not meant as a compliment. It’s just that he’s pretty close to average at everything else. His acceleration and long speed are subpar. He occasionally has a nice cut, but frequently takes too many steps to decelerate. He’s not particularly elusive, but he is extremely difficult to bring down.
We’ll start with the good. That hurdle above, pretty freakin’ spectacular. He actually did that twice this season. Check out the plays:
Both plays show off his exceptional balance before the hurdle. Against the Bengals, he was wrapped up and left for dead before somehow breaking free. Against the Broncos, he was hit pretty well by #51, but runs through the tackle like it’s nothing. His leg drive to carry the defender into the endzone is also outstanding. The hurdles are obviously amazing. There’s not many running backs that can make those plays.
Let’s dissect some of Hunt’s bigger plays of the season to see both the good and the disappointing. Common refrains to watch for: good blocking, broken tackles, lack of explosiveness. First, a 27 yard run against the Rams:
Hunt starts with a decent cut to hit the hole. It’s good enough, but far from the explosive cuts we see from the likes of Barkley, Elliott, or Kamara. I saw a lot of “good enough” cuts on tape, but none that really impressed me. The stiff arm to run through the linebackers tackle is excellent. Hunt is great at using his arm to prevent defenders from wrapping him up. Combined with his balance, that leads to his ability to run through tackles.
After breaking the tackle is where this run disappoints. I’ve shown clips in all my previous posts of runs where the defenders take terrible angles towards the ball carrier. The defenders are world class athletes, but they’re forced into bad angles due to the acceleration of the ball carrier. Here’s a great example from Saquon Barkley. Watch how he splits the defenders untouched:
The safety seems like he’s in a decent spot to get to Barkley, but then Barkley is just 5 yards further downfield than the safety expected. Compare that to Hunt. Notice how easily John Johnson (#43) is able to track him down in the open field:
Hunt just doesn’t have the second gear that the other elite running backs I’ve scouted have had. You can see it again in this next play. Hunt has a huge hole and breaks a tackle. Those are the common refrains on his big plays. He’s got good balance to stay in bounds, but he just never hits that second gear.
Another stretch play with a huge hole and an nice stiff arm. But notice how Barry Church takes the perfect angle.
Hunt’s vision and cutting are frequently uninspiring. He’s prone to using multiple steps to slow down, and he doesn’t explode out of them. The next two runs are outside zone plays. The success of these plays is predicated on vision explosive cutbacks. Watch his feet and the small steps he takes to decelerate before his cut:
Instead of planting his foot and exploding through the hole, he just kind of stutters and is tackled.
A play where there is a cutback to the right, but Hunt either fails to see it or can not make the cut:
Plays like this were all too common on Hunt’s tape.
Hunt has a reputation as a great pass catcher, but his route running did not stand out on tape. I watched every single target to him this season because I truly expected it to be better. As for stats, this season Hunt had 26 receptions over 11 games. Nick Chubb, his new teammate in Cleveland, caught 20 passes in 10 starts. Damien Williams, his replacement in Kansas City, caught 30 passes in the 7 games after Hunt was suspended. Hunt also had 3 drops, the same number as Chubb.
Most of Hunt’s receptions came on screen passes or dump-offs. Many of the screens left Hunt with tons of room to run which is great scheme and play design, but doesn’t show much for Hunt as a receiver.
Below are 8 of Hunt’s 26 catches and they accounted for 214 of his 378 receiving yards. They were all big plays, but I did not see exceptional receiving skills on any of them. Judge for yourself:
Here Hunt gets open down the sideline, but it was a busted coverage, a great throw from Mahomes, and the corner almost runs him down:
We’ll finish with two catches that once again show his exceptional balance to stay in bounds and find the pylon:
Hunt is a fine receiver. Probably a bit above average for a running back. He’s in the Chubb, Elliott and Gurley range of just being good when he gets the ball in space. The Chiefs were excellent at doing that. He is nowhere close to the David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Alvin Kamara class of receiving backs where he can exploit mismatches when split out-wide or in the slot.
Overall, Hunt is a good running back who will be largely situation dependent. The Chiefs were excellent at getting him in space. They’ve also been successful doing that with Spencer Ware, Damien Williams and just about any running Andy Reid has gotten his hands on. Hunt has great balance which leads to his power. He lack’s elusiveness, acceleration, and long speed. Hunt is far from the top tier in pure talent. If you question that, check out my posts on Barkley, Elliott, Kamara, and even Chubb. The difference is clear.