The degree to which many fantasy owners have been fervently anticipating the opportunity to roster high profile members of this year’s rookie class, is very reminiscent of the process that children undertake when attacking the wrapping paper that conceals their most coveted Christmas presents. This is especially true for many of us who participate in dynasty leagues, and are already grabbing these newcomers with unbridled elation.
This is not to suggest that the current level of hype is completely warranted, to the degree that potential owners should abandon sound judgment during the draft process. But it is of equal importance to avoid being overly skeptical, which places you at risk of disregarding newcomers who could ultimately benefit your roster this season.
Interest in first-year performers has intensified following the recent NFL Draft, and this year’s collection of options at the running back position has been particularly enticing. While Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, and Dalvin Cook represent the most prominent members of the 2017 class, Kareem Hunt is among those who have recently engendered more attention within the fantasy community. As a result of the effort that Kansas City made to obtain him, and the favorable opportunity that awaits once he invades the field. Hunt became the sixth running back to learn his NFL destination during Day 2 of April’s draft process, when the Chiefs relinquished multiple picks in order to climb 18 spots, and secure him with the 86th overall pick. It is the first time that Andy Reid and General Manager John Dorsey have drafted a back since 2014, and the fact that they traded up in order to procure his services bodes well for his future with the team.
The 5’11”, 215-pound Hunt emerged as an appealing option after becoming the all-time leading rusher during his four seasons at Toledo, while operating as the feature back for the vast majority of his collegiate career. This enabled him to generate nearly 5,000 yards (4,945) on 782 attempts, for a robust 6.3 YPC average. He exceeded 100 yards in 20 different contests, including 12 consecutive games from 2013-2015, and also accumulated 44 touchdowns. Despite that massive workload, he only fumbled once, and even managed to recover the miscue himself. Last season, he ran 262 times, amassed 1,475 yards (5.6 YPC), and scored 10 times. Plus, he produced 403 of the 555 yards that he accrued as a receiver while performing for the Rockets.
Example: Ware remains favorite to lead KC in carries, but Adam's prediction helps confirm Hunt could emerge fast. Bold but not unreasonable
— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) May 20, 2017
He won’t even turn 22 until August, but the elusive rookie has a genuine opportunity to overtake Spencer Ware as Kansas City’s primary back, and could easily accomplish that in 2017. However, the impending competition between Hunt and the fourth-year veteran currently presents a complex dilemma for owners who are contemplating the value of either back. At a minimum, Hunt should become an integral component within Reid’s offensive strategy this year, as he has demonstrated the ability to be a shifty, yet patient runner; who possesses favorable vision, and remains unafraid of contact. Plus, there is no discernible reason for concern regarding his hands, as he is also a proficient receiver.
Those attributes will now be integrated into a Kansas City unit that ranked just 20th in total offense last season (343 YPG), but was 13th in scoring (24 PPG). The Chiefs were also nestled firmly within the median of all teams in rushing (15th), averaging 4.2 YPC. This represented a decline from 2013-2015, when KC ranked 10th or better in that category (10th/10th/6th). While neither Ware nor Charcandrick West were originally drafted by Kansas City, both players joined the Chiefs in 2015 and 2014 respectively, to function in subsidiary roles behind Jamaal Charles. But after Charles tore his ACL in Week 5 of the 2015 regular season, West commandeered the majority of RB touches, participating in just under 50% of the Chiefs offensive snaps, compared to 16% for Ware.
Ware also led KC’s backs with 33 receptions on 42 targets, but that total perpetuated the modest employment of this position as a receiving weapon by the Chiefs during the past few seasons. The most extensive targeting of backs during the Reid era occurred in the first year of his tenure (2013), when Charles garnered a team high 70 receptions on 104 targets, while Dexter McCluster collected 53 of his 81 targets. Since that time, no back has accumulated more than 40 catches, or has eclipsed 59 targets. Of course, no profile on a skill player for Kansas City should overlook Smith’s involvement within the equation. Smith is entering his 12th season, and at this point of his career, there are no surprises that will suddenly develop regarding his capabilities, or his shortcomings. However, his reluctance to launch deep throws with consistency could blend favorably with Hunt’s receiving skills, to produce more opportunities for deployment as a weapon from the backfield than Ware and West were allotted during the past two seasons.
It should be noted that Hunt was suspended for two games after violating team rules in 2015, and suffered multiple injuries (foot, hamstring). Although he still manufactured nearly 1,000 yards on the ground (973). He also delivered a largely underwhelming performance at the NFL combine, by registering 4.62 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and eschewing the agility drills completely. But that did not deter Reid and Dorsey from making a concentrated effort to draft Hunt, and it should not discourage you from selecting him. During the next few months, you won’t have to labor extensively to locate reports stating that Ware will retain the feature back role, or that Hunt is primed to usurp it. You can also expect the ADPs for both players to fluctuate considerably, as potential owners react to those narratives – even though many will be speculative in nature. Nevertheless, it is currently difficult to ascertain when the massive degree of uncertainty might dissipate, and it will be highly dependent upon how both runners perform during the summer.
Still, the belief from here is that Dorsey and Reid have already displayed their confidence in Kareem Hunt, and his potential to make a significant contribution to Kansas City’s attack. Through their investment in him, and the resources that were expended in order to acquire the gifted rookie. Ware failed to exceed 3.8 YPC in five of his final eight games last season, and there is nothing in those performances that should compel anyone to proclaim him as an unequivocal lead back. His undistinguished production during that span also fails to inspire confidence that he can fend off Hunt for a significant amount of time. As the newcomer possesses enough desirable attributes to seize what should minimally be a satisfactory workload, and is equipped with a legitimate opportunity to ascend into a sizable role this year. That should supply owners with the confidence to select Hunt before the end of Round 5 in dynasty leagues, and at the beginning of Round 8 in redraft formats.