Chances Not Great of Chiefs’ Hunt Repeating as Rushing King

Monday, June 18, 2018 5:06 PM UTC

Monday, Jun. 18, 2018 5:06 PM UTC

With NFL training camps approaching, the sportsbooks are rolling out more 2018 NFL season props. Today, we look at Sports Interaction’s odds on this year’s rushing leader.

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If at this time last year, you predicted that Kansas City Chiefs rookie Kareem Hunt was going to win the 2017 NFL rushing title, well, you should be doing my job – and buying lottery tickets. I highly doubt that even the most optimistic Chiefs fan or University of Toledo alum (where Hunt starred) believed that was possible, and SBR’s top-rated sportsbooks sure didn’t as Hunt wasn’t even a betting option.

After all, Hunt, the No. 86 overall pick in the 2017 draft, entered training camp last summer as the third running back on the depth chart behind Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. However, sometimes an injury to a starter can be the best thing to happen to a team – ask the 2001 Patriots about that regarding Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady.

West suffered a season-ending injury in the Chiefs’ penultimate preseason game vs. Seattle and that opened the door for Hunt. He blew threw it immediately, rushing 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown and catching five passes for 98 yards and two scores in Kansas City’s stunning Week 1 victory at defending Super Bowl champion New England. It’s safe to say that Hunt was a fairly popular pickup in fantasy football leagues to open Week 2.

Let’s fast forward to Week 17 of last season when Kansas City visited Denver. The Chiefs had wrapped up the AFC West title and had nothing to play for (neither did the Broncos), so Andy Reid rested most of his starters. The plan was to sit Hunt, too, but he was just 13 yards behind Todd Gurley for the NFL rushing lead and one yard ahead of Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell. Gurley and Bell both sat out Week 17, but Hunt talked Reid into letting him play. All it took was his only carry, a 35 yarder for a touchdown, for Hunt to pass Gurley and finish with 1,327 yards (franchise rookie record) and the rushing title.

“He came to me and he wanted to play and he wanted to do this thing," Reid said after that game vs. of Hunt, who needed 14 yards against the Broncos to pass Gurley. “I fought him a little bit on it, and he won that fight. He told me he’d get it taken care of quick, and he did that.

Hunt became the sixth rookie since the NFL merger – yet the Saints’ Alvin Kamara won the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award – and second straight to win the NFL rushing title, following in the footsteps of the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott in 2017. The others were Earl Campbell, George Rogers, Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James.

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Reid says “Kareem Hunt will be okay” for start of training camp. Held out much of OTA and minicamp with hamstring injury.

— Matt Derrick (@mattderrick) June 14, 2018
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Could Hunt repeat in 2018? Sports Interaction lists him as a co-fourth favorite at +800 along with Chicago’s Jordan Howard and another second-year player, Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette. The last back to repeat as rushing king was the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006-07. The only other Chiefs to win the honor were Priest Holmes in 2001 and bruiser Christian Okoye in 1989.

Hunt is clearly the starter entering 2018, but his rushing workload could decrease some this season with Ware’s return to health. Ware is no scrub, rushing for 921 yards on 214 carries in 2016. The Chiefs want to fully incorporate Hunt into the passing game this season after he caught 53 balls for 455 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Reid loves versatile running backs – think Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles.

The Kansas City offense could struggle more this season with Alex Smith traded to Washington and second-year Patrick Mahomes taking over under center with just one career start – that Week 17 Denver game. Thus, as good as Hunt is, he’s not likely to lead the league in rushing again. There also have been a couple of off-field incidents this offseason, but nothing that should lead to suspension (for now).

The Chiefs open their season Sept. 9 as 3-point underdogs at the Los Angeles Chargers. Hunt had 327 yards rushing and two scores on 41 carries in the two games vs. L.A. last year as K.C. swept.

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