Fantasy Football: Can Kareem Hunt Have Another Monster Season?
Kareem Hunt set the world on fire as a rookie last season. Following Spencer Ware's season-ending knee injury, Hunt went on to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards, and he tacked on another 455 yards through the air, notching 11 total touchdowns.
With Ware set to return, Charcandrick West still in the fold and the Chiefs adding Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams to their stable of backs, will Hunt be able to repeat his historic rookie season and live up to his lofty average draft position (ADP), which sits ninth overall, per Fantasy Football Calculator's standard-league ADP.
How the Chiefs Used Hunt in 2017
A year ago, Hunt's 69.9% snap share ranked ninth in the NFL among running backs. In fact, Hunt eclipsed 80% of the Kansas City Chiefs' snaps in only two games. Meanwhile, Charcandrick West played at least 25% of the snaps in 10 of his 12 full games in 2017. Not surprisingly, some of Hunt's highest snap shares came in the games in which West did not play (75%, 81%, and 87%).
As a rookie, Hunt saw almost 80% of the Chiefs' running back touches, which ranked fourth in the NFL. Despite the big-time volume, Hunt was able to be extremely efficient. We can peep that via our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which uses historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected on a per-play basis. (You can read more about NEP in our glossary.)
Among high-volume backs (those with at least 150 attempts), Hunt's Rushing NEP per Carry of 0.05 ranked second to only Dion Lewis (0.16). Not many guys are able to maintain elite efficiency with a huge workload, but Hunt did just that in 2017.
Of course, in fantasy, the most important thing is opportunity. If Kansas City bringing in two backs this offseason means Hunt is going to see less work, it'll ding his raw numbers and therefore lower his fantasy ceiling. What might his workload look like in 2018?
Potential Touch Squeeze In KC?
Suddenly, with five noteworthy running backs, the Chiefs' backfield appears crowded.
Ware would seem like the guy most likely to eat into Hunt's touches, since Ware was perceived as the Chiefs' likely starter at this time 12 months ago. But the signing of two other running backs probably sheds more light on what KC is expecting from Ware more so than telling us anything about Hunt, who we know will be a focal point of the offense.
Along those lines, coach Andy Reid recently said that the reason KC signed two backs was that "you never know" what may happen when players return from severe injuries like the one Ware sustained. Going by that, Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams seem like insurance signings who can provide depth in case Ware isn't the same guy. And it's not a given that all of the four runners under Hunt on the depth chart actually survive cuts later this offseason.
Additionally, while Ware was productive in 2016, he performed nowhere near Hunt's level. And neither of the Williams duo was all that good last season.
In 2016, Ware finished with -0.07 Rushing NEP per Rush on 214 attempts, which was well below the league average of -0.02. In 2017, Kerwynn Williams checked in with -0.11 Rushing NEP per Carry while Damien Williams posted a -0.19 clip. The average Rushing NEP per Attempt a year ago was -0.05, so both guys were a ways away from being good.
For reference, Hunt put up 0.05 Rushing NEP per Rush on 272 attempts. That ranked first among all backs with at least 200 carries.
Lastly, the Chiefs still have Charcandrick West. Last season, West played a complimentary role as a pass-game back. On the year, he recorded only 18 carries while making 27 catches. While West could still have a change-of-pace role this season, he doesn't figure to impact Hunt's workload too much.
In fact, it may be the other way around -- Hunt could start seeing more work in the passing game, which he said was his focus during this week's OTAs.
Hunt made 53 catches for 455 yards last year, so it's not like he was a dud as a pass-game weapon. But pass protection may be the one thing that's keeping Hunt from being a true three-down monster. According to Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus, Hunt ranked 48th in PFF's pass blocking efficiency metrics. However, Hunt's NFL sample size remains small, and, per Barrett, Hunt performed well when asked to pass block back in this college days at Toledo.
All in all, Hunt's floor for touches is likely what he saw as a rookie, and it's not unreasonable to project him to see even more work.
Despite a depth chart featuring Ware, West, Damien Williams and Kerwynn Williams, Kareem Hunt can still be drafted with confidence at the end of round one. This is a guy who led the league in rushing yards despite seeing "only" the sixth-most carries, and any concerns about his usage in 2018 appear to be overblown, especially when you consider how much better Hunt has been than any of the other guys on Kansas City's depth chart.
By any measurement -- including our NEP metric -- Hunt was one of the best backs in the league last season, and as long as Patrick Mahomes can keep the offense humming, Hunt should once again be one of fantasy's premier running backs.