The Kansas City Chiefs third round pick Kareem Hunt had an NFL debut to remember Thursday night against the New England Patriots. The rookie carried the ball 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 5 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Hunt was a popular prospect coming out of Toledo among many NFL draft analysts. He has the size to be a powerful NFL runner but has the deceptive agility needed to dodge tackles and find running lanes. The former Rocket was great at bouncing his runs to the outside and is a great open field runner.
Another notable part of his college resume was the fact that he only fumbled the ball once throughout his NCAA career. A total he matched one carry into his NFL career.
Hunt made a good push and would have gained around 8 yards on the play had he held on to the ball. Unfortunately, the ball was punched out of his hand and he lost a fumble on his first career NFL carry.
Andy Reid did not lose faith in his rookie running back, luckily. Hunt would share snaps in the backfield with Charcandrick West and Tyreek Hill throughout the game.
The Chiefs used their running backs open field ability and agility to break runs off of the outside. Kansas City used quick pitches to him and pulled blockers around to seal the edge. His rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter was a good example of this.
Kansas City lined up their receivers as tight ends very close to the offensive line on many of their offensive snaps. On this play, there are two men flanking the line on each side. Albert Wilson (No. 12) and Demarcus Robinson (No. 14) are lined up to the right and responsible with sealing the edge for Hunt. They both take out the first two men on the Patriots right side and leave it up to Hunt to beat the linebackers to the corner. He catches a pitch from Alex Smith while on the run and beats them to the pylon for a touchdown.
Hunt is not the best runner between the tackles so the Chiefs need to spring him into open space to take full advantage of his skills. Majority of the carries that he had on Thursday night were out of shot gun and around the edge.
Taking the majority of his rushes out of shot gun and on pitches allows the blockers in front of Hunt to have more time to set up themselves and create room for him. His burst is great, so when he does see the opportunity to turn the corner he can get there fast.
His late fourth quarter rush that sealed the game for the Chiefs was the perfect example of this.
Demetrius Harris (No. 84) and Travis Ross (No. 88) are the pair of tight ends lined up on the left edge. Travis Kelce (No. 87) and left tackle Eric Fisher (No. 72) both pull out wide. Fisher takes the first man while Kelce runs free to take down the first man at the next level. All Hunt has to do is beat the final linebacker to the corner as he comes across the formation. He does and breaks free for a huge gain.
One fault in Hunt’s game that this play does demonstrate is the lack of breakaway speed he has. This should have been a touchdown, and had this been either Tyreek Hill or De’Anthony Thomas this would have been. Luckily West scored on literally the next play, but this should have been a score.
Pulling guards and using additional blockers to create space for Hunt is not the only way to get him into space. The Chiefs ran him into the flat many times to let him catch the ball in space and use his agility to get down field.
The Patriots are playing in zone coverage on this play and the Chiefs ran both of their receivers on that side out of the area on deep routes. Hunt runs a quick route out into the flat, where there is no defender for miles.
He makes the catch and turns up field. Hunt gets a great block down the field by a wide receiver and makes nice cut forward for a good gain and a first down. The play was designed to get the running back into space easily and for him to use his open field skills to make a play.
The highlight of Kareem Hunt’s day came on a passing play, as well.
Hunt runs a wheel route out of the backfield. He gets picked up by a linebacker coming out in man coverage. The rookie manages to fight through initial contact from the defender and gets a step on him heading down field. New Englands deep safety came all the way up the field to cover Tyreek Hill in the flat leaving no one to help over the top. Smith delivers a perfect pass to his running back downfield. Hunt makes the catch, but his poor speed almost allows the defenders to take him down. Luckily with the safety all the way upfield there was no one deep enough to stop him as he went in for the touchdown.
Kansas City catered to Hunt’s strength’s in the passing game just as well as they did in the running game. 7 out of the 13 routes that he ran Thursday night were either out routes straight into the flat or wheel routes. When he makes catches out there is rarely anyone immediately on him and he is almost guaranteed space to operate.
This performance by Hunt, as much as I hate to say it, may be just as much a result of the Chiefs system as it was the running back himself. He struggles between the tackles, his vision is not the best, and he does not have the same kind of speed that Tyreek Hill has. So the Chiefs made sure he never had to. Almost every play he ran was a toss play, he ran very simple routes and outside of that one deep pass Smith would only throw him the ball when he had an open field in front of him.
Kansas City has a very talented back field even with the injury to Spencer Ware. Hunt and West are the only two “true” backs who get regular playing time and both fill the same role. Hill and Thomas, who are both wide receivers, also line up in the backfield often as well on many snaps.
The Chiefs run the most unique offense in football. They rely heavily on speed and pure athleticism of their players and puts them in position to make plays. The offense lined up in the t-formation many times, ran the option, threw many shovel passes right up the gut to Kelce and even let Kelce line up as a wild cat. Andy Reid knows what talent he has on the roster, and how to use every player to reach their max potential.
Expect Hunt to get more playing times over the next few weeks, but also plan on teams being better prepared for the Chiefs newest star. Just like they did last year with Hill, the Chiefs may have found a new exciting prospect in Hunt who should thrive in their system and put together a potential rookie of the year season.
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