Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey.
A top-heavy running back class will generate headlines on day one of the NFL Draft, but another back poses as a later round steal for franchises aiming to improve their running game.
Kareem Hunt finished his career at Toledo as the program’s all-time leading rusher with 4,945 yards over four seasons. He notably broke out in his sophomore and senior seasons, where he accumulated 1,631 and 1,475 yards respectively. Hunt accomplished plenty as a four-year starter as a Rocket, including tying the record for most rushing touchdowns in a bowl game (5), but his contributions in the Reese’s Senior Bowl really captivated the NFL scouts.
Hunt entered Mobile, AL in January with a lot to prove as a Group of Five running back, and impressed scouts with a 118-yard performance on 15 carries. The Toledo alum brought home North Outstanding Player honors in a 16-15 loss to the South. He notably broke out for a 43-yard scamper during the contest, fielded several other rushes over 10 yards and was utilized in the passing game on screens.
Hunt doesn’t go down without a fight.
When defenders wrap up Hunt, the play doesn’t end there for the running back. Instead, he always keeps his feet moving at a rapid pace, demonstrating his incredible balance and footwork even with defenders on his back. Hunt excels at racking up yards after initial contact, a key attribute that boosts him toward the top of the 2017 running back class.
He doesn’t fumble either. Through 782 carries and 73 receptions, Hunt fumbled once during his freshman year — and recovered it. Ball security is crucial for running backs and it’s a technique Hunt has seemingly mastered. His combination of breaking tackles and expert ball security is a desirable one, because many young running backs often expose the ball while driving their legs in attempt to gain extra yards.
Hunt is also improving his receiving game, adding another dimension to a talented skill set. During his senior year, he caught 41 passes after a combined 32 in his first three seasons at Toledo. He averaged 9.8 yards per catch, demonstrating his ability to function as a third down back and in halfback screen plays.
What Needs Work
Hunt spends time reading his blockers to find the open hole. This quality of his game can be beneficial, but sometimes quicker reactions are needed in the game of football. In order to add to his already extraordinary game, Hunt must react quicker to blocks and add more speed to his initial bursts.
Hunt clocked in at 4.66 seconds during his 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in early March. Several other top running backs in this class ran sub-4.50 times, placing Hunt as one of the slower backs that will fall in the first two days.
He is not the fast, Darren Sproles type running back in this draft class, but not exactly an Eddie Lacy power back either. Hunt is a combination of the two, with average speed and an expert ability to break tackles.
With physicality comes injury though. Hunt missed time in his dominant sophomore season with an ankle injury. Still, he posted 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns in just 10 games. During his junior season, Hunt once again played in only 10 contests, missing time due to a hamstring injury. Running backs experience injuries quite frequently. In the NFL, Hunt may see immediate playing time as a result of injuries on his team’s depth chart. It’s a part of the game, providing opportunity to some careers, while taking it away from other careers.
Hunt is the steal of this draft. Selecting running backs in the first round, especially with high picks, can be risky and has worked before. But third round running backs have exceeded expectations in recent years. David Johnson, DeMarco Murray, and Tevin Coleman are just some of the names from the third round that have succeeded on NFL gridirons. This is the round Hunt will probably land in, given his breakout performance in the Senior Bowl and his sought-after abilities to shed tacklers and fight for extra yards, all while holding on to the pigskin.
Any team that needs depth in the backfield should consider selecting Hunt, a Toledo legend and bowl game record holder. He will likely be the highest senior running back drafted in the class, armed with plenty of collegiate experience and readiness for the physical game that is the NFL. Stay alert for Hunt’s name to be called when the NFL Draft moves to the 80th pick.