Combine height: 5’10”
Combine weight: 216 lbs
Age: 21.5 (22 in August)
High School Ranking: .8033, 3-star (247)
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Kareem Hunt entered the Toledo football program as a mid-level three star running back with a relatively-inconspicuous profile. However, he swiftly took the reigns in its offense and did nothing past that point but stand out. On his path to countless accomplishments as a Rocket, Hunt seamlessly shifted from a thumping bruiser to a refined athletic specimen with a tremendous grasp for the finer points of rushing.
In my superficial devy prospect scouting last off-season, Kareem piqued my interest as a Samaje Perine-like battering ram. To my (and, I assume, many others’) surprise, Hunt showed up in his final season a completely changed player, with a compact (though completely filled) frame and bounds of unlocked quickness. It’s harder to find him bowling over miserable tacklers now, but he certainly makes up for the lost aesthetic appeal with his extra athleticism and retained intelligence. In a strange, turbulent, and productive career, Hunt has remained one of my favorite players, both to watch and to draft for my teams.
Hunt spent about half of his true freshman season as upperclassman David Fluellen’s understudy, but after a breakout performance against Navy, the Ohio native hijacked the lead role in the backfield and never looked back. He finished the season rushing for over six yards per carry, a tremendous clip for anyone, let alone a freshman.
The stars aligned in his sophomore season, as Hunt managed an incredible 1,631 yards in just 205 attempts, combining high volume with incredible efficiency. He was privileged enough to run behind a reliable and talented offensive line which missed just three combined starts and featured three all-conference honorees. Talent and opportunity would have been good enough for him to nab 2,000 yards this season, if not for missing three of his 13 games.
Hunt’s junior year balanced out the prior campaign as all five trench starters graduated, beginning a massive rebuild up front. Hunt’s efficiency plummeted back to reality, and change-of-pace back Terry Swanson stole an additional 30 carries from the season before, in addition to the three-games’-worth of carries he lost from injury. The results were disappointing, but things must be kept in perspective when a season of his stat line looks like a disastrous turn.
In his final stretch, Kareem largely kept pace with his efficiency from the prior season, although this time around attrition took much less of a toll on his supporting cast. However, dissatisfying production should be expected when volume is heavily increased, which was certainly the case for Hunt last season. He topped his previous high for carries by a mark of 57, and became dramatically more involved in the passing game, unleashing a whole other element to his attack. The season total finished at 1,878 total yards, the best mark in the MAC.
All in all, his production from start to finish was quite impressive. He topped his conference in single-season rushing twice, set his school’s all-time mark for career rushing (25th among all NCAA runners since 1,956), and scored double-digit touchdowns in three of his four seasons.
Ball security: pretty, pretty good
Across 782 collegiate carries and 73 receptions, Hunt fumbled a staggering… one time, which his team recovered. I think it’s safe to say he won’t get put in the doghouse for fumbling at any point in his career.
Hunt’s current build is close to the prototypical size you look for in a back. He’s muscular and heavy-set enough to capture the momentum required for bowling over smaller defenders. On the flipside, he’s light enough to move quickly and efficiently and thin enough to escape tacklers inside and out. I’d prefer him to be a bit taller, but that’s nitpicking. All in all, you can’t complain about his build.
The one downside of Hunt’s renaissance came in the power department. He just can’t generate as much momentum as he could before, and his power has suffered as a result. However, the drop off wasn’t too bad. He will flatten any secondary tackler that tries to tackle him flat-footed and push an ensuing pile as far as it will allow. His stiff arms are mean when chosen over evasive maneuvers. His low center of gravity beats tacklers who try going low with limited difficulty. Altogether, his power has gone from great to good, which in consideration with all that he has improved, seems perfectly acceptable.
Kareem Hunt has tailored his running style incredibly well to his strengths. His attitude is terrific, with undying legs, love for contact, and low pad level. Despite a loss in power, he kept his ability to gain tough yards because he’s still just a relentless runner. He meets defenders at a high-leverage position with little hesitation and fights with tenacity to keep the ball moving.
On the other side of the coin, Hunt is an intelligent, disciplined rusher. He sticks with play designs until he knows of a better course of action and skillfully follows blockers while adjusting course to these blocks. He displays tremendous patience at the line, letting plays develop and allowing defenders to over-pursue. My only current drawback with him is that he often approaches the line too quickly, which can close holes he could otherwise hit, and forces him into awkward angles at other times.
Among the former Rocket’s top talents is how well he keeps his feet. His thick build and strong legs work to keep him up despite taking licks to his body and legs. Hunt’s film portfolio is littered with striking examples of his resilience to shots up high and down low. His elusiveness, strength, attitude, and size coalesce with this balance to make him a tough load to bring down.
Hunt has risen from a heavy-footed bruiser to a legitimately quick runner in the backfield. The senior version of Hunt gets where he needs to be in a fast manner, leaving defenders in the dust in the process. He doesn’t rush into holes, but will turn on the jets whenever needed to beat tacklers to the punch. Once he finds a hole, he reaches and navigates it in a swift, deft manner. Overall, he doesn’t have dominant quickness, but it gets him in the right spot in most circumstances.
Hunt doesn’t really pop once he’s reached open field, but he isn’t necessarily slow either. He kind of gets where he should, and does so well. He has the potential to break off long runs and finish them in the end zone, but more often than not, he’ll have to bowl over a few guys at the end. Beyond the more anecdotal evidence, Hunt’s 4.62 40 yard dash time would seem to generally support such an assessment. The pace is not a fast one at all, but is good enough for what he is being asked to do.
The former Rocket uses his powerful legs exceptionally to explode off the turf and promptly attain top speed. With daylight ahead, he reaches his full stride upon exiting the hole, giving him a temporary leg up on defenders. He doesn’t have the best long speed, so perhaps it is easier for him to achieve his final gear than for others, but that’s a (possible) problem with speed, not burst.
He showed flashes of strong evasive moves, but he didn’t fully unlock his arsenal until his senior year, and boy, was it pretty when he did.
To start, Kareem Hunt has some of the best jukes in the draft, and it’s beautiful to watch him put those to work. His weight loss led to a huge uptick in agility, which in turn allows him to make efficient jump cuts that minimize hang time and maximize lateral movement. Thus, defenders break down, and wrap up air where they expect Hunt’s legs to be.
Hunt has other weapons to work with too. His agility in the hole allows him to sidestep tacklers who look to have a square shot. He possesses small-area quickness that allows him to outmaneuver front-seven defenders meeting him at the line. Finally, he utilized the spin move in seasons prior and added some extra punch to it this last season. All in all, Hunt uses a full set of attributes and moves to get past defenders with finesse, which you might not expect out of someone with his stature.
As hinted at above, Kareem has made huge strides in developing his agility. He combines his powerful legs with decreased weight in order to move side-to-side quite well. As a result, he’s quicker to holes, gets caught in the wash less, and navigates his surroundings with increased proficiency. He plants his feet with little difficulty, so that switching direction wastes negligible amounts of speed.
On the other hand, Hunt can be inconsistent in his lateral movement. Additionally, he is still a pretty big dude, so it can be hard for him to cleanly make it through the trenches. However, a couple runs in the Senior Bowl hinted that he might have improved at getting skinny through blocks since his last carry as a Rocket.
Yet another one of Hunt’s well-developed traits is his vision. He’s quick to read the gaps that his line opens up, often finding his hole just after taking possession of the ball. When there appears to be nowhere with the play design, he’ll promptly recognize the situation and either improvise or get upfield, whichever is better for the situation. Entering the hole, he adjusts to new blocking developments with almost zero reaction time (you can hardly notice he actually had to adjust course here). At the next level, the former Rocket is savvy in determining angles that can get him past his next defender. Vision altogether has played a big part in getting him where he’s gotten to this point, and should be one of his strengths as an NFL back.
Pass blocking: C-
It would probably surprise you that such a well-built, developed back would grade this low, but if anything, I’m being generous with this grade. Hunt’s technique is simply quite bad — his current go-to move is bending over and strangely putting a weak shoulder into his man. At other times, he’s susceptible to strength and can be outmaneuvered by edge rushers. Finally, in some occurrences where he does square up a rusher with good positioning, he’ll drop his head, a cardinal sin in Steve’s book of pass blocking.
I’m giving Hunt a serious benefit of the doubt with a grade that registers at a bit below average, but I think it’s the right move. He has all the size and strength to give him the raw potential of a steady blocker. On the intangible side, he has shown apt football intelligence needed to understand his responsibilities and the work ethic necessary to make such a drastic improvement. I’ll trust Hunt to make it to a level of not-terrible at least, because he’s given me enough reason to do so across the rest of his profile.
Kareem’s huge uptick in receptions in his senior season was great news to me. He provided substance to the flashes of passing potential he displayed in years prior, with clean catches and production in the open field. He’s great at catching the ball away from his body, making extreme catches both low and high while acting as a nuisance once he’s tucked it. He uses his hands instead of his chest instinctively, a trait you want to see from any receiver.
Kareem Hunt appears to be a prospect who offers anything you could ask for at the surface. He’s at least average in every skill department aside from pass blocking, which I trust he will work hard to address. As a former power back, he knows how to run hard and utilize his still-forceful frame. With a considerable weight loss, the Toledo man has also unlocked a surprising amount of athleticism. He is among the smartest and most mature backs of this class, meaning he maximizes his already-solid set of physical abilities. Finally, his hands provide promising potential in the passing game.
Still, I’m not totally sold on him. Whenever I looked back through my work and upped his grades at some spot (which I did many times), I wondered “am I being too easy on him?” This led me to looking at him with a bigger grain of salt, and my conclusion was “not really.” All these individual grades were earned and not inflated. However, as I took a skeptical eye to him as a complete package, I came to the realization that the sum of the parts could be greater than the whole.
Hunt excels in nearly all secondary phases of the game — elusiveness, agility, style, etc. The problem is that he’s good, but not great, at the primary, defining factors of a runner’s game. After his weight loss, his strength has been decreased to the point where he’s in a weird no-man’s-land: He’s not strong enough to be a power back nor quick enough to be a speed rusher, and doesn’t reach a high enough level at both to be a combo back. It seems as though Hunt might have spread himself too thin in addressing his weight and footwork concerns.
Again, the guy is an above-average option for essentially any role you look for a back to fill. He won’t be as dominant at breakdown points as Perine nor as lethal in space as Christian McCaffrey, but he’ll perform any job with proficiency. He should earn a lot of conventional carries on running downs and, depending on pass-blocking development and landing spot, offers potential as a receiver as well.
- Style and vision give him some of the best intangibles in this class
- A mixture of strength and nice feet give him a bit of everything to work with
- Pass blocking needs lots of work and could hold him out of third-down opportunities until it’s fixed
- Quickness and strength being good-not-great leave him as an awkward tweener.
All things considered, Kareem Hunt is a remarkably safe prospect. From his consistent collegiate production to his striking versatility, there are really no warning signs. His biggest single red flag is that he isn’t dominant in a primary running facet, which combined with no rushing weaknesses could lead to some form of identity crisis. At the very least, he offers the consistency of a solid two-down back, with lots of opportunity to build up from that point.
Due to his well-suited style and superb vision, Hunt provides a high floor. His hard running and ability to find essentially any hole go a long way to insulating his value from bad offensive lines. Because he is such a flexible back, there aren’t any particular systems I’d strongly prefer to any others. Perhaps he would be worst off in a spread attack heavily reliant on pass blocking and speed in its backs. Otherwise, it’s quite difficult to come up with specific preferences and stayaways, aside from a dream scenario such as Oakland. The better the offensive line and greater the workload he gets, the better Hunt’s production will be.
With all things considered, Hunt currently slots in as my seventh-ranked running back, behind the general top tier of backs, Perine, and Wayne Gallman. Behind him lies Jamaal Williams and a sizable tier break. Compared to his tier-mates, Perine offers a clearer strength and Gallman does-it-all just a bit better while Williams offers less upside. Adding in receivers and tight ends, Hunt places as the 13th rookie in my class rankings, so he’ll end up somewhere in the late first to early second range.
Kareem Hunt can go as far as his role takes him, and if he experiences another renaissance during his career (where he reinvents his game, once again), there’s greater potential on the table. Prior to the Senior Bowl, the draft community had done a great job about keeping silent about this guy. Unfortunately, he is now much more on the radar, and as a result, I don’t anticipate him falling for much of a bargain at all. Still, that shouldn’t make you hesitant to draft the cheapest complete back in the class and reap the rewards.
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