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Was Week 1 an aberration for Kareem Hunt?

Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/AP photo

Is Kareem Hunt a legitimate top running back for the Kansas City Chiefs?

Hunt was always going to be a good NFL back. Given an opening, he is taking advantage of his big opportunity. During the draft process, I pegged Hunt as the second-best running back in the draft. Thursday night against the New England Patriots was not surprising.

His first carry was.

Kudos to coach Andy Reid for sticking with the rookie. Benching a guy after one touch and a fumble could ruin his psyche for a long time, but it didn’t take long for Hunt to get going. His second carry went for nine yards — he showcased his balance and vision as he found a hole and broke a tackle. We’re going to look at some of Hunt’s rushes and receptions to show why Week 1 was not a fluke. It’s hard to luck into 148 yards on 17 carries as well as 98 more yards on five catches.

Getting North and South

Not every run will feature five broken tackles from a running back. It’s about making the right play. Thursday night, Hunt did just that. He did a good job of getting north and south and maximizing his runs. Below is an outside zone play where Hunt sees a crease and cuts right away.

It’s good to see him run through an arm tackle from a defensive lineman.

This next carry features Hunt’s balance and agility. In the NFL, the best backs can make a guy miss. It’s 2nd and 1 and a couple defenders are unaccounted for. That didn’t stop Hunt from getting seven unconventional yards. This time it’s an outside zone play to the left. A linebacker comes free up the middle and Hunt has to make a decision on the fly.

As you can see, he makes the correct one. He cuts back against the grain and escapes the linebacker’s grasp. He then stiff-arms a defensive lineman, hurdles an oncoming corner, then is finally dragged down by a linebacker. That’s a heck of a play for anyone. Hunt showed this type of effort all night. Will he have 246 yards from scrimmage every game? No, that’s not realistic, but with this type of effort he certainly showed he can be a featured back.

Hunt scored on a sweep earlier in the game from four yards out. Andy Reid must have liked something he saw because he came back to it to essentially ice the game for the Chiefs: same formation, this time to the left instead of the right.

Another reason it’s easy to believe that Hunt will be a consistent NFL back is that Reid is a creative play-caller. Reid will get him the ball in many different ways. Against the Patriots, it was clear he wanted to get Hunt to the edge.

The above play is a product of really good blocking. Look at Travis Kelce pull and cut the corner. That’s beautiful. If Hunt had to break multiple tackles every run just to get four yards, I’d be concerned that he wouldn’t be able to sustain his production. Thursday night showed that isn’t the case.

We haven’t even gotten to the passing game. Hunt had a 78-yard touchdown pass where he ran right by the linebacker. Expecting Hunt to be an explosive running back who will produce multiple 50-plus-yard touches a game isn’t fair to him. That’s not his style. He will have no trouble running through tackles, turning three-yard gains into six and making sure the Chiefs stay ahead of the chains.

For a rookie running back, an NFL team can’t ask for much more than that. Hunt is on track to be one of the most consistent running backs in the league this year.

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