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Is Kareem Hunt the next fantasy football superstar or not? – Washington Post

In a column last week, I suggested that your fantasy football team would be wise to start Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt in the NFL opener against the Patriots. Gee, ya think?

Hunt fumbled the first regular-season carry of his NFL career — evoking memories of Devontae Booker’s first-carry fumble 365 nights before — but because the Chiefs lost veteran RB Spencer Ware to a season-ending knee injury before Week 1, Hunt was in no danger of riding the pine. Instead, he saw 16 more carries and five receiving targets and produced the greatest yards-from-scrimmage game in league history for a player making his debut: 246 total yards.

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People are really excited. On FantasyPros.com, a site that compiles rankings from dozens of sources, Hunt is ranked seventh among running backs this week. In high-stakes Fantasy Football Players Championship drafts from Las Vegas last weekend, Hunt was occasionally drafted first overall. Apparently, the time for exuberance on Kareem Hunt is nigh.

Is it warranted? My gig is film study, so I’ve gone back and re-watched all of Hunt’s touches against New England to understand the road ahead for this third-round pick out of Toledo. Here are my thoughts, which I’ll follow up with some strategic assertions:

The kid glides. He’s not a burner, and he doesn’t have elite juke-you-out moves, but his running style is deceptively quick: his head stays fairly still and he accelerates to a crease well. He saw cutback lanes and pressed the gas to get to and through holes. His third touchdown was a footrace to the pylon with Duron Harmon, and he won.

He’s relatively sturdy. Hunt may “only” be 5-foot-11 and 216 pounds in what to me looks like a smaller package than that, but he finished a couple of runs by trucking defensive backs: he did it to Harmon in the first quarter and Stephon Gilmore in the third.

He surprises tacklers. This is a trait I like to see on film: when a would-be tackler winds up on his heels. Gilmore had a line on Hunt on a simple third-quarter screen and did make the tackle, but Hunt made him reach by cutting to the inside.

He’s a multi-skilled back. Hunt played 37 offensive snaps Thursday while Charcandrick West played 22, and some of that work for West came in garbage time. Hunt ran 17 routes while West ran 16. The Chiefs won’t use Hunt 60 times a game, but it’s nice to know he can play on third downs, too.

He’s not going to run over front-seven defenders. Hunt is more a speed/finesse runner than a power guy. There were times against the Patriots when he did squirt away from a larger man, but to my eyes that was more about bad defense. When someone bigger got a clean shot on him, Hunt didn’t have answers. He scored two TDs from inside the New England 5-yard line Thursday night, but both were misdirection type plays. You’re probably not going to see him bang in a bunch of short ones.

He doesn’t have elite speed. It’s cool that he got around the right edge in the fourth quarter to basically end the game, but watch Malcolm Butler run him down like he’s standing still. And Butler isn’t a burner himself.

It’s hard to separate what Hunt did well from an abysmal defensive performance by the Patriots. Watch this film back again and you’re left with the impression that New England didn’t know what it was doing, especially after Dont’a Hightower left the game near the end of the third quarter. To that point, Hunt had 14 touches for 88 scrimmage yards and a touchdown, which is a fine performance. After Hightower left, he had 158 more yards — mostly on two big plays — and two more scores.

Trey Flowers and Alan Branch both had obvious chances to get him in the backfield early in the game and whiffed. Kyle Van Noy missed him multiple times; if you’d had a shot of whiskey every time Van Noy was standing in the hole in good position to tackle and then let himself get nudged aside by a blocker and whiff as Hunt passed by, you’d have been drunk by halftime. Elandon Roberts had Hunt dead in the backfield once and whiffed. A statue shaped like David Harris had him dead once but couldn’t fall over onto Hunt in time. The long touchdown reception saw Hunt matched up on glorified special-teamer Cassius Marsh, an unwinnable matchup, and Harmon was playing centerfield but at the snap sprinted out of the middle of the field to run 30 yards and cover Tyreek Hill in the flat. The miscommunication, the lack of discipline, was breathtaking.

I’m not trying to say that Hunt will be a bust. For as long as he’s healthy, he’ll be Andy Reid’s lead back, and he does enough things well to give a safe yardage baseline even in weeks where he doesn’t bust big plays. But I’m not sold that big plays are coming for him in the kind of abundance that Week 1 foretells. We may look back on that Patriots performance and realize it was a herald of a very bad defensive season. This week against the Eagles’ strong front-seven, I don’t think the sledding will be as easy, and in Hunt I don’t see the kind of athlete who’ll dance around entire defenses or crash through them with regularity.

So what do you do with Hunt if he’s on your fantasy team? In today’s NFL, where finding feature backs is difficult, you probably ride it out with him. There will be good days, even if it’ll never be as good as it was in Week 1. But if you want to package Hunt with a decent wide receiver and get Le’Veon Bell or Ezekiel Elliott? To me, that could be a championship move.

Christopher Harris runs HarrisFootball.com, where you can find more info on the “Harris Football Podcast,” with new episodes every weekday.)

More Fantasy Football coverage from The Post

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Three fantasy RBs to replace Danny Woodhead

Five fantasy moves you need to make this week

Start/Sit: Get Dez Bryant out of your lineup in Week 2

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