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What should Chiefs expect from Kareem Hunt?

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt (27) before an NFL week 1 preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs on August 11th, 2017 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. The 49ers won 27-17. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)
Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire

Spencer Ware is a quality NFL running back. He has pile-moving power, is a good receiver and blocker in the passing game, and has a little bit of wiggle and agility for a bigger back. Ware is average or above average in most categories compared to his peers, but isn’t special in any particular area. In the end, Ware is a below-average starting NFL running back, but an outstanding backup or complementary piece.

Before his Week 8 concussion, Ware was outstanding last season. Kansas City was giving him the ball on average slightly over 18 times per game. Ware responded by averaging just under 130 yards per contest. In games played after the concussion, Ware touched the ball almost as often on a per-game basis, but his production dropped about 50 yards per game. Who is to say why the difference was so striking, but it was obvious on film that Ware wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half of the 2016 season.

To lighten Ware’s load and challenge him more for playing time, the Chiefs traded up in the third round to select Kareem Hunt. The Toledo product, like Ware, is a real good fit in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. Also like Ware, Hunt doesn’t have one trait that jumps off the page, but he does everything rather well. This is especially true when comparing Hunt to other rookie running backs.

Hunt has very good balance and is tough to bring down. He is a tackle breaker in tight spaces or in the open field. His never-say-die pinballing running style endears him to his coaches and teammates. Hunt is a quality receiving option, but not an overly dynamic one. Hunt has been impressive in the preseason, as have Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller. Hunt was highly productive at Toledo, racking up 45 touchdowns while fumbling only once in college.

Reid runs a conservative offense and has one of the NFL’s most conservative quarterbacks, Alex Smith. Kansas City plays with a slow pace, throws a lot of passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, and features the run a lot. Certainly there are weapons, namely Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Reid will dial up deep shots to those two, but for Smith to be at his best, the Chiefs need to run the ball effectively. Kansas City thought that teaming Ware and Hunt would offer a far better chance of making that philosophy a successful one. The Chiefs also traded for former first-round pick Cameron Erving on Wednesday to help their offensive line depth, which further reinforces this philosophy.

However, Ware tore his PCL in Week 3 of the preseason and will miss the entirety of 2017. Hunt was surely going to eat into Ware’s workload even if the veteran had stayed healthy. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if Hunt became Kansas City’s top running back by midseason.

Now we will never know. Hunt is clearly the top dog right now. His style of play and what he has shown this preseason strongly indicate that the rookie will be up for the challenge. I would bet that Hunt will eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground this year and enter the conversation for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The Chiefs are still in good hands.

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