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The Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt is special, and here’s why

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KC Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt is having one of the greatest starts to a career in NFL history. I say that without any hyperbole whatsoever.

Hunt has 401 rushing yards in three games, which is the second most ever through three games by a rookie since 1950, according to the always-on-point-with-weird-tidbits Matt Derrick. When you throw in his 137 receiving yards, his 528 total yards is the second most anyone has ever gained in their first 3 NFL games.

It’s ridiculous what he’s doing. It’s extraordinary what he’s doing. And it’s high time we start appreciating what is giving Kareem Hunt so much success so early. One reason for this is I’ve had a few too many people tell me they believe most of Hunt’s success is due to Andy Reid’s creative scheming. The argument goes that a fair number of other RBs could do what Hunt is doing, given the situation he’s in.

Now to be fair, I’m a big fan of MOST of what Andy Reid has done this season (I wasn’t crazy about a few things vs the Chargers, but mostly he’s been brilliant). I have no problem saying that Hunt has come into a solid situation with the Chiefs: a well-run offense with creative play calling, enough pass threats to keep teams somewhat honest, and a run blocking group that’s done a nice job.

That said, a great deal of the success Kareem Hunt has had is due to his individual skillset, not the situation he’s landed in. Let’s talk about traits, starting with vision and decisiveness.

This run by Hunt isn’t anything particularly special on the surface, but it does well to demonstrate his decisiveness, one of the traits that’s been consistently noticeable from his first carry. By that, I mean that Hunt gets north/south VERY quickly. He diagnoses where he believes the hole to be and gets moving more quickly than the vast majority of running backs. There’s almost never any “dancing” by Hunt unless absolutely nothing is available. He sees his spot and gets moving.

A lot was made about Hunt’s lack of top-end speed coming out of college. However, when you’re a more decisive runner and get moving towards the end zone a fraction of a second more quickly than anyone else, that negates any speed advantage they had. Think of it in terms of the 20-yard or 40-yard dash: a couple tenths of a second make a massive difference, right? Think of how differently you view a 4.3 40-yard dash from a 4.5 40-yard dash.

In the NFL, a couple tenths of a second is a big deal. And Hunt seems to make up his mind and get going that much faster than many backs. In the gif above, you see the defensive linemen just not have time to try and disengage and get a hand on Hunt as he goes screaming past them. Part of that is because Hunt is more explosive than anticipated, yes. But a huge part is that he just GOES. No hesitation, no dancing. Just sees the hole and splits.

That ability can turn big plays into enormous plays.

This is a well-blocked play that is made exponentially better by a linebacker committing to the wrong hole and leaving a massive gap for Hunt to run through. However, Hunt makes that mistake even more glaring by immediately getting north/south through the hole at the exact angle desired to force the safety into a tough place.

When you’re a runner who can recognize mistakes by linebackers or safeties and immediately capitalize on them in real time without slowing down, it makes any mistake against you potentially fatal. Hunt’s decisiveness (and again, better explosion than advertised) compounded the defensive errors and helped turn it into a touchdown.

Another example can be found in this play, which will also segue us into the next trait Hunt shows.

Once again, Hunt sees a running lane and gets right into it. No time to waste for that guy. Because he’s so fast to recognize the lane and exploit it, he gets through the hole with a full head of steam faster (seemingly, at least) than either the linebacker or the safety who try to meet him at the hole expect.

Picture that play if Hunt were just .2 seconds slower to recognize and hit the running lane there. If that happens, the LB has time to engage the blocker and slow Hunt down, and the safety is meeting him right as he emerges from the line and with an angle. instead, Hunt blows right past the angles of both guys. Again, those split seconds are a big, big deal in the NFL. Andy Reid isn’t getting those extra .2 seconds. That’s all Hunt and his natural gift of explosiveness and (more importantly) decisiveness.

Then, of course, there’s the next important trait Hunt shows on that run when he levels Chargers safety Tre Boston. Hunt is S-T-R-O-N-G and possesses leg strength and balance that is borderline frightening. That combination of traits leads to him constantly getting extra yards after contact.

You could go an entire season with other running backs and not see them break that many tackles in an entire game, let alone one play. Hunt has a vicious stiff arm to complement his strength (no way is that guy actually playing at 208 pounds, by the way. At least not by my eyes) and leg power.

He’s also surprisingly elusive, which aids him in his tackle breaking as he’s able to keep defenders from getting square shots at him.

Hunt almost never goes down on first contact, instead consistently finding a way to eke out an extra 2-3 (or sometimes significantly more) yards after being hit. In a game of inches, those extra yards add up over time and become a major contribution. And again, that contribution has nothing to do with scheme or help from his teammates. It’s simply Hunt making a play with his natural gifts.

Almost every time Hunt gets the ball, he gets more yards than you think he should. It happens a dozen times a game. Those extra yards turn terrible plays into only slightly bad plays, they turn average plays into good plays, and they at times turn good plays into great plays.

Take this run for a first down for example.

The blocking and design of this play are well done, so perhaps it’s the kind of play that would make someone say Hunt is a product of his circumstance. However, the fact that Hunt got a first down on this play has a great deal to do with the fact that he got probably 3-4 more yards than most backs would here, by a combination of his decisive north/south running and natural strength, alongside balance that almost bizarre to watch.

Again, it’s absolutely true that Andy Reid’s offense is a good one. But for goodness’ sake...

... plays like this are NOT the result of scheme or blocking or anything else but a player with a remarkable skillset making a good play.

One last time, Hunt’s vision, decisiveness, explosion, agility, strength and balance are much more the reason for his remarkable start to the season than any “special sauce” dialed up by the head coach. It’s just the truth. If you look at the plays gif’d here, then look at about 20 other snaps from Hunt, it becomes wildly apparent that many of these yards he’s manufacturing on his own.

I mean, just LOOK at this.

To paraphrase what I wrote earlier, Hunt is a guy who can take a two yard loss and turn it into a two yard gain, or a five yard gain and turn it into a 10 yard gain. He’s just that good.

A lot of credit should go to Andy Reid this season. But Kareem Hunt’s current lock on the offensive rookie of the year award (honestly, no one else besides maybe Dalvin Cook is even close in my opinion, and he’s not THAT close) is absolutely not only due to Reid. It’s due to the fact that Hunt is a wildly talented, uniquely skilled player who can manufacture yards better than almost any other running back in the league.

Watch for those manufactured yards on Monday night against the Redskins. I guarantee you’ll see them. I’ll be there live, screaming my head off at Arrowhead, and I hope you’re there to enjoy it with me. Because right now, it looks like the Chiefs have yet another guy in the long line of fantastic running backs out of Kansas City.

It’s a good time to be a Chiefs fan, and Kareem Hunt is a big reason why.