On November 30, 2018, the career and dynasty value of Kareem Hunt looked to be destroyed when a video surfaced involving Hunt and a woman in an altercation. Later that day, the Kansas City Chiefs released him and Damien Williams carried the Chiefs backfield for the remainder of the 2018 season.
Now 73 days later, Hunt has surprisingly found a new home with the Cleveland Browns. The timing and landing spot of the signing are more than a bit curious. First of all, many thought NFL teams would wait to hear the official punishment from the NFL on Hunt violating the league’s personal conduct policy before signing him. In addition, Cleveland is far from a running back needy team heading into 2019 as they currently boast a backfield featuring promising young 2018 rookie Nick Chubb and pass catching dynamo Duke Johnson.. Projections on a suspension for Hunt range anywhere between four games and the full 2019 season, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what it will actually be. Hunt signed a one-year contract with the Browns and will now be a restricted free agent in the 2020 off-season. The Browns are clearly taking a chance on the suspension being short and are willing to take a massive public relations hit to do so.
Let’s take a look at the players involved in this signing and the possible affects this could have on their dynasty values.
Kareem Hunt, RB CLE
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From the Hunt dynasty perspective, this may be an exciting landing spot as far as an offense to join goes, but the talent and investment already on the roster should temper that excitement a bit. Nick Chubb was selected #35 overall in 2018 and rushed for 996 yards in his rookie season, despite only starting nine games. Alongside Chubb we also find Duke Johnson, the pass catching specialist in the Browns backfield who is signed through the 2021 season, thanks to an extension he signed last off-season. With a lot invested in both backs, it will require Hunt playing extremely well when he returns from suspension in order to get any legitimate playing time, though we also know just how talented he really is. If Hunt had joined a backfield with less talent like the Eagles, Buccaneers or Bears, I would’ve locked him into to returning to RB1 production after the suspension, but that may not be the case with the Browns. The best case scenario looks like a time share with Chubb, leaving Johnson a little out in the cold in the process.
Much like many predicted the Carlos Hyde trade after the drafting of Chubb, the signing of Hunt will result in trade rumors beginning to swirl on Duke Johnson nearly immediately. In fact, Browns GM John Dorsey didn’t exactly throw water on that fire today as he was quoted as saying Johnson wasn’t expendable “yet.” The Browns would need to be very comfortable with the future of Hunt in order to trade the running back they have signed for three more years. If the Browns do make that trade, that is a big positive indicator for Hunt and he will be a much better investment than he is at this moment.
Per DLF’s February ADP (which was accumulated prior to the signing), Kareem Hunt is being selected at #41 overall as the 17th running back off the board – that is a larger investment than I am willing to make in a running back who I don’t think has a guaranteed short term path to touches. Nick Chubb was selected at #13 overall as the seventh running back off the board. If his value falls at all due to this signing, I think he becomes the more attractive buy in the Browns backfield. While I may be sour of Hunt’s new landing spot, as is the case with the NFL Draft when the dynasty community heavily sours on a landing spot, that can make the player a good buy. However, I think most Hunt owners will be optimistic with him joining one of the most young and explosive offenses in the NFL, even with the backfield competition.
For those expecting a close to 50/50 split between the backs once both are on the field together, they could be disappointed with Chubb getting more like a 65/35 split between the backs. Usage for NFL players is and always will be highly predicated by the investment in the player. Yes, there will be the occasional exceptions like undrafted free agent Phillip Lindsay outcarrying third round pick Royce Freeman 192-130 in their rookie campaigns. However, the early second round pick spent on Nick Chubb and the extension given to Duke Johnson will be motivation for the Browns to use them over Kareem Hunt on a one-year prove it deal. In summation, Hunt has the impending suspension risk and with his new home in Cleveland, he also has the added risk of falling behind on the depth chart and a team that isn’t desperate to use him. Many expected his ADP to climb after he signed with a team, but signing with a team with no need at running back may cause his value to stay stagnant at RB17 or possibly even fall slightly with no clear picture for his 2019 and future production in Cleveland. There’s just too much information yet to come to make a truly educated dynasty decision in regards to Hunt’s true value.
Nick Chubb, RB CLE
After making Carlos Hyde expendable, Chubb really turned it on last year, ending just four yards short of a 1,000 yard season, despite only starting those nine games. Chubb’s healthy average of 5.2 yards per carry and ability to produce long runs showed the promise many had for him early on during his illustrious career at the University of Georgia.
Make no mistake, the signing of Hunt isn’t a great thing for Chubb’s value at all. After all, the Browns just brought in an MVP caliber player who their GM is very, very familiar (and possibly even smitten) with. There is obvious risk with Hunt being suspended longer than the Browns think and possibly not even playing a down for them next season. However, if he’s reinstated and proves he’s over his issues, Hunt is going to inevitably eat into Chubb’s workload. On the positive front, Hunt is only on a one-year deal and it’s unlikely the Browns would really want to invest heavily in both running backs long-term, especially in this day and age where the position is somewhat interchangeable.
While this is clearly a short term buzzkill on Chubb’s value, owners shouldn’t overreact at this point until we know more about what Cleveland’s plans really are. In fact, it’s quite possible this could represent a nice buy low opportunity on those looking to acquire Chubb for the long haul. In short, this is no time to start selling low on your shares of Nick Chubb.
Duke Johnson, RB CLE
Duke Johnson’s dynasty value was already dipping due to the emergence of Chubb, as he was being drafted at 116 overall as the RB45 in January. With the signing of Hunt, it is fair to say that will drop even further in our March ADP, which will could actually make him even more of a value. Yes, valuing players on projected future transactions can be a dicey proposition, but I think it is unlikely all three of Chubb, Johnson and Hunt finish the 2019 season with the Browns. Johnson is more talented than his draft position indicates with an average of 58.75 catches for 542.25 receiving yards per year in his first four seasons in the NFL. There is some risk of Johnson being faded out of the offense with Hunt coming in, but Johnson being traded or Hunt not panning out in Cleveland are both more likely outcomes than Johnson serving as the third running back behind Chubb and Hunt in 2019. As with Chubb, this could be a time to buy.
Nathan can be found on twitter at @NPowellFF
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