FAB 2. BUCS IN THE HUNT FOR HUNT
As you may have noticed, PewterReport.com has been extremely high on Toledo running back and 2017 NFL Draft prospect Kareem Hunt all offseason. I’ve written about him in previous SR’s Fab 5 columns, while Trevor Sikkema featured him in a previous Cover 3 column. Hunt was also projected as Tampa Bay’s third-round pick in PewterReport.com’s 2017 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft version 2.0.
Hunt rates as the 121st best player in the 2017 NFL Draft, according to CBSSports.com’s NFL Draft Scout, the ninth-best running back in this year’s crop and the top senior rusher. Hunt ranks as a third- or fourth-round pick with the likes of USF’s Marlon Mack, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine and Clemson’s Wayne Gallman.
It’s doubtful that Hunt will be one of the eye-openers at the NFL Scouting Combine and run such a blazing fast 40-yard dash time that it will catapult his draft stock into the second round. Expect a time in the 4.5-4.59-range for the Toledo star, and that’s fast enough to be a very good NFL running back.
Forty-yard dash times aren’t everything – ever for a running back. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin ran a 4.55 coming out of Boise State and was drafted at the end of the first round. Jacquizz Rodgers ran a 4.52 and went undrafted.
If the Bucs don’t get the chance to draft Florida State’s Dalvin Cook or Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey early, Hunt would be a fantastic pick-up in the third round, which is where PewterReport.com has him in our latest mock draft.
Don’t take my word for it.
“I’m a huge Tampa Bay fan,” Hunt told me at the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl. “I just like the players there – Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, they’re just all good. I like the colors, too. They have sweet jerseys and all that. It’s just a nice environment and I’d like to be a part of that.”
Hunt grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and played at Toledo and has no allegiances to the state of Florida. He’s just one of several college football players that have latched on to the Bucs’ growing popularity with the arrival of Winston in 2015 and the emergence of Evans over the last three years.
Hunt told me he interviewed with Tampa Bay at the Senior Bowl. The team could very well circle back around and interview him again at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month.
“Yes, I have interviewed [with the Bucs], and it went real well,” Hunt said. “I interviewed with a scout so far and I think I have another interview hopefully coming up soon. The guys seem nice and I just like being around them.”
Hunt didn’t fumble the opportunity to impress the Bucs on his interview. The guy doesn’t fumble – ever.
Hunt had 856 carries at Toledo and fumbled once, but recovered his own loose ball. So he never had a turnover in four years in college, which is incredibly rare. Hunt is the only running back in this draft class that technically hasn’t lost a fumble.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, Hunt had the highest non-fumble rate of any running back in the draft, followed by Miami’s Joseph Yearby, who fumbles once in every 434 carries. Michigan’s De’Veon Smith (266.5) is next, followed by Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (243.7) and Louisiana Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire (168). These running backs are considered “elite” non-fumblers, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette is in the “below average” category at 82.1, which means he fumbles once for every 82 carries, but several other prominent rushers in this draft class are in the “red flag” category. Those players include, Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols (74.9), Texas’ D’Onta Foreman (74.3), Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon (73), Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara (71), Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel (69.8), Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (63.8) and USF’s Marlon Mack (54.3).
Foreman had five fumbles last year and lost all five. Cook had six fumbles and lost four. Cook had eight lost fumbles in his Florida State career. Mack had three fumbles last year and five as a freshman. Kamara had five last year, McNichols and Mixon all fumbled five times last year.
Not only was Hunt extra careful with the ball at Toledo, he was incredibly productive. Although he has had an extra year’s worth of production as a senior than some of the junior running backs coming out, Hunt did split carries with two other backs for the Rockets, and still had 4,945 career rushing yards. That is more yards than that of Coastal Carolina’s De’Angelo Henderson (4,635 yards), Florida State’s Dalvin Cook (4,464 yards), Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire (4,312 yards), Wyoming’s Brian Hill (4,287 yards), Perine (4,122 yards), McCaffrey (3,922 yards), BYU’s Jamaal Williams (3,901 yards), Fournette (3,830 yards), Mack (3,609 yards), McNichols (3,205 yards), Foreman (2,782 yards) and Kamara (1,294 yards) entering the NFL Draft.
In fact, the only running back in this year’s draft class that has more rushing yards is San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, who became the FBS all-time leading rusher this year with 6,450 yards.
Hunt had 44 touchdown runs at Toledo, and only Cook (46), Perine (49), Henderson (58) and Pumphrey (62) had more in their collegiate careers.
What’s not to like about a productive running back that can catch the ball, hang on to it and score touchdowns?
“I pride myself on being an every-down back,” Hunt said. “I don’t ever want to come off of the field – like ever. I want to be on the field at all times during the game. I don’t care if it’s one second left on the clock, I don’t care if it’s a Hail Mary, I want to be out there to make a play and somehow help my team to win.
“If you draft me you’re going to get a player who works hard and who cares and loves football that will do whatever it takes to be successful. Even if I don’t get paid I would still play football – that’s how much I love it. I’ve been doing it for free all my life. Football means so much to me, it’s like a part of me. I started playing when I was seven years old. I did some pretty amazing things at the age of seven, too – I have to say. I fell in love with the game and my mom used to record all the games when I was younger and I went back and watched them about two years ago. It was fun”
Hunt grew up watching Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, but feels his playing style is closer to that of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell.
“Le’Veon Bell, he just sucks up the yards,” Hunt said. “He’s really smooth and I really like that. I try to get my patience and setting things up from him and all that stuff. David Johnson’s just a guy that does it all. He breaks a lot of tackles, he can catch the ball, he can run, he does it all and he’s a guy I really like. David Johnson’s a really great running back, too.”
It came as no surprise to me that Hunt was the 2017 Reese’s Senior Bowl Most Outstanding Offensive Player after leading the way with 118 yards in the game, including a tackle-breaking 47-yard dash.
“I’ve got great balance and a low center to the ground,” Hunt said. “I just know how to angle my body just a little bit to stay on my feet and get my legs churning, that’s the biggest thing. You’re going to break tackles if you keep your legs pumping and pretty much you have to be patient sometimes and be smart and just know what you’re up against.”
After ripping off nine runs of 40 yards or longer in the first three seasons of his Rockets career, including a 91-yard touchdown against Bowling Green in a 265-yard rushing effort as a sophomore, Hunt started his senior season slow without a run of 20 yards or more in the first six games. That taught him patience, and yet Toledo went 5-1 in those contests with Hunt having three 100-yard games.
“It was a slow start for the breakout runs, but I just tried to take what they gave me,” Hunt said. “The defenses weren’t giving me a whole lot so I had take what the defense gave me. Don’t try to do too much because when you do too much you can end up either hurting yourself or making a bad play. Pretty much I just tried to focus on just doing what I could do and controlling what I could control.”
Running backs that press too much and try to get yards that aren’t there often fumble. Hunt certainly didn’t do that, and his patience paid off. He ended the season with five straight games of 100 yards or more, including a 200-yard effort against Western Michigan in the MAC Championship Game – a game in which he also had 73 yards receiving on three catches. Hunt had nine plays of 20 yards or more down the stretch, including a 47-yard run against the Broncos and a career-long 71-yard catch against Ball State.
With another 47-yard run and 100-yard game in the Senior Bowl, Hunt’s collegiate career ended in style.
“The Senior Bowl is just a great opportunity to get coached by great coaches and it means a lot just to learn an NFL playbook and see what you’re going to be up against,” Hunt said. “It’s a great head start and I’ve got to work on little details like technique and my pass [protection] game. I really have some abilities to do it all, but there are some technique issues I have to work on, such as being a little more patient out of the I-formation.”
Patience has paid off Hunt throughout his illustrious career at Toledo. If the Bucs patiently wait until the third round for a running back, Hunt could be quite the find.