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Kareem Hunt is overvalued

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Heath explains why he is letting Kareem Hunt be someone else’s problem in 2018.

USA TODAY Sports/Peter Rogers Illustrations

Despite all the flack I have received here at Fake Teams for ranking Hunt as a high-end RB2 (the horror!) I’m not the only one uncomfortable with Hunt’s current draft position.

You don’t even have to go outside of the SB Nation network to see Hunt listed as an underwhelming choice. Arrowhead Pride voted Hunt as their “most likely fantasy bust” in SB Nation’s top team picks for this year. Meanwhile, Spencer Ware was voted as the “best fantasy sleeper” for Kansas City. Those results line up with my rationale for avoiding Hunt in 2018. But before I dive in further, here are a few others that are bearish on Hunt’s chances this year:

Here’s Michael Beller of SI describing the perfect storm that led to Hunt’s improbable season in 2017.

Here’s Matt Okada of The Fantasy Footballers contending that Hunt will not disappear from fantasy relevance completely...but that Hunt is not a lock as a Round 1 pick.

I don’t know when Muntradamus snapped the photo in this article, but he’s arguing against all the experts on FantasyPros who ranked Hunt too highly. My name is among them, though I currently have Hunt ranked as the RB14. The photo was taken before I began my football research. I do baseball too, Muntradamus! Now that my rankings are updated, maybe this article can get an update?

And last but not least, here is Tags from FantasyPros citing Hunt’s improbable workload from 2017 and the health of Spencer Ware. He also mentions the signing of third-down specialist Damien Williams, which further dampens Hunt’s outlook. This is another logical expert who simply thinks that Hunt will not live up to his ADP.

Without further ado, let’s get into why I’m not drafting Kareem Hunt in 2018. It should be noted that I don’t think Hunt is a bad player. I just have concerns about him living up to his Round 1 ADP, and would prefer to take a guy like Melvin Gordon instead. Anyway, moving on...

Opportunity Isn’t Knocking (at least not like last year)

Opportunity is one of my gripes against Hunt. Hunt led the league in rushing yards as a rookie, with 1,327 (Gurley was next at 1,305). He was fifth in touches, with 325. Only Le’Veon Bell, LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon enjoyed more opportunity than Hunt last year. Also, the Chiefs rested some key guys in Week 17, so Hunt could have easily had over 340 touches—which would have put him in the conversation for the second-most touches at the running back position last year. Point is, I do not believe Hunt will receive this level of opportunity in 2018. Historically, Reid hasn’t favored a running back in this way—at least not in recent memory.

Reid joined the Chiefs in the year 2013, when Jamaal Charles was in his age-27 season. But I figured I’d go back a tad farther, so I started my research in 2011—when Reid was still coaching the Eagles. His running back those last two years in Philadelphia was a third-year guy named LeSean McCoy, who was 23 years old at the time.

So the stage is set: McCoy is a third-year player, a beast. He averaged only 4.1 Y/A in his rookie season, but that spiked to 5.2 Y/A in his second year. He caught 40 balls as a rookie, but wrangled 78 balls as a sophomore (another spike). So let’s check out what happened with McCoy in his third year (2011) and scope out Andy Reid’s RB1s since that time:

2011 (PHI): LeSean McCoy had 273 rushing attempts, or 60.67% of the team’s carries. Michael Vick (76 rushing attempts or 16.89%) had the second-most carries on that Eagles team.

2012 (PHI): LeSean McCoy had 200 rushing attempts, or 48.4% of the team’s carries. He only played 12 games, though. If you average out his 16.6 runs per game it comes out to 266 carries—or what would have been a whopping 64.4% of Philly’s carries that year. Bryce Brown (27.8%) received the second-most carries that year.

2013 (KC): Jamaal Charles had 259 rushing attempts, or 58.60% of carries. Charles played in 15 games. Alex Smith (76 attempts or 17.19%) was the second runner. Charles averaged 5.0 Y/A this year, in his age-27 season.

2014 (KC): Jamaal Charles had 206 rushing attempts, or 49.05% of carries. He played in 15 games during his age-28 season. He averaged 5.0 Y/A again (i.e. he was still good). Knile Davis averaged 3.5 Y/A (wasn’t good) and still garnered 134 rushing attempts, or 31.9% of work.

2015 (KC): Jamaal Charles (ACL) only started 5 games. His 71 attempts prior to injury would have put him around 227 rushing attempts for the season, or less than his 2013 pace. The Chiefs made do with Charcandrick West (160 attempts, 36.7%) and Spencer Ware (72 attempts, 16.5%). Knile Davis was relegated to only 28 attempts (6.4%).

2016 (KC): Spencer Ware had 214 rushing attempts or 51.9% of carries. Charcandrick West had 88 attempts (21.36%). Alex Smith chipped in with 48 attempts (11.65%).

2017 (KC): Spencer Ware (torn PCL) was lost for the year during the preseason. Enter Kareem Hunt, who managed 272 rushing attempts, or a staggering 67.16% of carries in his rookie season. Alex Smith was again the second runner, chipping in 60 runs (14.81%). In fact, you can argue that the only reason Smith’s rushing attempts spiked in the last few years were due to the loss of a running back. When Charles was hurt in 2015, Smith spiked to 84. When Ware was hurt in 2017, Smith spiked to 60. Meanwhile, in 2014 Smith only ran 49 times. In 2016 he only ran 48 times.

Let’s put it differently: Jamaal Charles was never above 59% of his team’s carries under Andy Reid. And during LeSean McCoy’s 2011 season (when he had the highest number of attempts he would ever have under Reid) he logged 60.67% of the team’s carries. In no year that I studied did any back come close to the percentage of carries that Hunt received last year (67.16%). And that didn’t by happen by design in Kansas City, it happened out of necessity due to Ware’s injury.

Everyone who assumes Hunt will dominate his team’s carries again must believe Hunt is a transcendent [third round] talent that Reid will be forced to feed? All of those people must think Hunt is a far superior athlete to the now healthy Spencer Ware? To those people, I have news for you...

Spencer Ware is an Athlete

Consider the following facts (facts don’t care about your feelings):

1) Kareem Hunt ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and a 4.60 dash at his pro day. Spencer Ware ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at his pro day.

2) Spencer Ware is 5-10, 229 pounds. Kareem Hunt is 5-11, 216 pounds. Ware outweighs Hunt by 13 pounds...

3) You want agility scores? In the 3-cone drill (measures ability to change directions at high speed) Ware’s 7.07 seconds bested Hunt’s 7.22 seconds.

In the 20-yard shuttle (measures lateral quickness, explosion in short areas) Ware’s 4.27 time was superior to Hunt’s 4.53 time.

Lastly, in the broad jump (measures lower-body explosion and strength) Ware and Hunt each jumped 9 feet, 11 inches.

(All numbers were taken from draftscout.com. Ware did not participate in the NFL Combine due to a hamstring injury, but his numbers were taken from his pro day.)

In summation, Kareem Hunt is NOT a superior athlete to Spencer Ware. They are either the same, or Ware is superior. And Ware is heavier. I’m not saying Ware is a better running back. I’m not saying Ware has better vision or more “gameday speed.” I am not a scout. I am merely making the case for Spencer Ware as an athlete.

So how does it translate to the field?

Spencer Ware has already produced at the NFL level...

1) In Hunt’s rookie season, he averaged 4.9 Y/A. Ware has a career mark of 4.6 Y/A.

2) Hunt caught 84.1% of balls last year, which is superb. Ware’s 2016 catch rate (when he saw extended duty) was 78.6%.

For reference, Ware’s catch rate was better than a guy like James White posted last year (77.8%). Another rookie stud in Alvin Kamara had an 81.0% catch rate in 2017. Noted pass-catching specialist Theo Riddick? A 74.6% catch rate last year. Point is...Ware isn’t a slouch in the receiving department.

3) On those catches, Kareem Hunt averaged 8.6 yards per reception (Y/R) in his rookie season. Ware averages 11.6 Y/R for his career. And when Ware actually received a decent workload in 2016, he averaged 13.5 Y/R. For reference, Alvin Kamara’s hyper-efficient rookie season saw him post 10.2 Y/R. He’s not even besting Ware’s career average.

So we have a guy in Ware that can run AND catch. Now is a good time for this string of tweets from Mike Clay in February, where he is paraphrasing Reid’s own words (Reid discusses his history of using multiple backs). Apparently, Reid views Hunt and Ware as “similar backs” who will “both be involved.”

I don’t want to say those comments and Ware’s athletic profile are damning for Hunt’s chances. I think that language would be too strong given Hunt’s production last year and his chops as a receiver out of the backfield. But everything I have seen does make me nervous to take him in Round 1. Also...

The Chiefs are changing

Here is how Andy Reid’s Kansas City teams have ranked in rushing attempts during his time in Kansas City (2013-2017):

2013: 15th
2014: 16th
2015: 12th
2016: 14th
2017: 23rd

One of those is not like the other.

Here is how Reid’s Kansas City teams have ranked in passing attempts:

2013: 20th
2014: 28th
2015: 29th
2016: 25th
2017: 17th

It’s interesting. This Chiefs team is changing, and perhaps not for the better. The defense is a major question mark. If you don’t believe in the defense for 2018, then last year’s split that resulted in only 42.7% of plays being run plays (the lowest percentage during Reid’s Chiefs tenure) may occur again. When you’re playing from behind, you throw. And there are a lot of mouths to feed in this passing game...

THE VERDICT

Gone is Alex Smith, and now is the time of the cannon-armed Patrick Mahomes. Enter Sammy Watkins, too. I don’t think it’s crazy to think that the Chiefs really air it out this year. Or crazy to think that they will have to air it out, based on their defense. To me, once you consider the very real possibility that Hunt cedes plenty of carries to Ware, I get nervous for his chances to pay off that Round 1 ADP. Here are all the mouths to feed in the passing game (of which Ware will be an entirely capably part):

  • Tyreek Hill
  • Sammy Watkins
  • Travis Kelce
  • Kareem Hunt
  • Spencer Ware

That’s a lot of guys to keep happy. And a rookie quarterback expected to do it. The Chiefs lost offensive coordinator Matt Nagy to the Bears, so either Andy Reid will return to play calling or he will hand the reigns over to a rookie coordinator in Eric Bieniemy. Remember, this offense struggled so much in the middle of 2017 that Reid had to hand over play calling duties to Nagy.

Add it all up, and there are simply too many things changing in Kansas City for me to like Hunt at his ADP (1.10). I view him as a part of a quality pair, not as a guy who is so superior to his backup that he’ll dominate the backfield duties. I think he belongs in the conversation with a guy like Christian McCaffrey (2.09 ADP). And to be transparent, that’s not how I’d prefer to draft. I’d rather go running back if drafting at the end of Round 1, with Melvin Gordon or Leonard Fournette. Which means I’d most likely be taking a receiver with my second pick, as Round 2 is littered with wide receiver value.

In all, if I’m drafting Chiefs in 2018 I prefer to take a shot on Mahomes, who should have to air it out this season. That, and Reid has shown that he is okay letting his quarterbacks run, and mobility is at least a facet of Mahomes’ game.

After Mahomes, my favorite Chief to draft is the sneaky-athletic Ware, who is currently an afterthought at his 14.5 ADP. What say you guys? Did I throw enough you-know-what at the wall to convince you to at least pause when drafting Kareem Hunt? Let me know if you think I’m crazy in the comments. Good luck out there. And if you disagree, be nice—today’s my birthday!