Posted June 3, 2017
When it comes to fantasy football, you can see many interesting things about your league mates. Do they take safe players or the players that can win your week? Do they never trade or do they have a totally different team every other week? Tons of play styles exist, but one thing that is common amongst fantasy players everywhere is believing in the rookie hype.
As a rookie, you are counted on to learn a brand new system, with some of the systems being more intricate than others. You are also expected to learn this system in a matter of months. You then have to train your body like you never have before with strict dietary and exercise regimens. Then you showcase your hard work and dedication in the offseason, but this time you have to beat out other players who have better skills than you in some areas, as well as them being familiar with both the playbook and the physical nature of the NFL. Now that you beat them out, you are now forced to compete against some of the greatest athletes alive and face the best coaches who scheme to take you down.
Sounds easier said than done.
So why do people overvalue rookies? Because fantasy football players are enamored with the unknown. If you have a player with seven years of experience in the NFL, who puts up good, but not great numbers, it will not be hard to project that player’s production for the next year. But how can you project a rookie? Based upon all of the variables above, you have no idea who will emerge. But we have seen rookies obliterate their projected statistics, and these are the ones that leave more of an imprint rather than rookies who flame out or don’t develop for a few years. Let’s take a look at some rookies from last year who had opportunities to succeed.
The two running backs were drafted in the 2016 NFL Draft 14 spots away from each other. Both were highly touted rookies but entered the league having an established running back in front of them. The first player flashed as a backup, and once the starter went down with an injury, he was automatically given an RB1 upside tagline. But it never translated, as he finished with 368 yards rushing, two touchdowns, and 2.99 YPC in the nine games he played in without the starting running back. He disappointed owners, to say the least. The second guy was drafted late into a crowded backfield with a coach who doesn’t typically give rookie running backs a chance to prosper. Instead, he was given an opportunity when the starter played two bad games and got injured in the third. He made the most of that opportunity, running for 1300 yards and six touchdowns on the season. The first player is being drafted in the 14th round, while the second player is being drafted in between the first and the second rounds.
The first player is Devontae Booker. The second player is Jordan Howard. Two similar situations, two entirely different outcomes. As a fantasy writer, it is near impossible to predict who will make the most of their opportunity. Sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and look at the situation that some rookie backs are entering.
Who is the Chief?
There has been a lot of hype surrounding 3rd round draft pick Kareem Hunt out of Toledo, and for good reason. The Kansas City Chiefs traded up to grab him at 86th overall and the 6th running back off the board. He had an excellent college career, rushing for almost 5,000 yards and 44 touchdowns in his four years at Toledo. He possesses unbelievable vision and balance and seems like a perfect fit for what Andy Reid does on offense. And if you fit Reid’s offense, you produce fantasy numbers.
Kareem Hunt was one of the most productive running backs in the 2017 draft. A stat that jumped off the page for me was the fact that he forced 98 missed tackles, only second to Dalvin Cook in the entire nation. Another great stat that makes Hunt intriguing is in the last three years, he has only one fumble. To be a feature back in the NFL, holding on to the football is crucial, and if Hunt can translate his great carrying skills to the NFL, he will stay on the field. He has a plethora of moves, such as the stiff arm and the spin move. He also knows when to use these types of moves. He is tough to bring down behind the line of scrimmage due to his elusiveness and uses his power on secondary players. After watching film on him, the only knock on him as a runner is his top end speed. He has decent burst at the line of scrimmage, but the acceleration just isn’t there. With a 40 time of 4.62, he will get caught by defensive backs and even some linebackers trailing the play. That being said, some of the top running backs in the NFL don’t need top end speed to be successful. Guys like Le’Veon Bell, Carlos Hyde, and DeMarco Murray utilize their strengths in other ways. Kareem Hunt is that talented of a runner that the top end speed will not be an issue at this level.
But one man stands between Kareem Hunt producing high end RB2 numbers, and that is Spencer Ware. The leading rusher for the Chiefs is back again and while his ADP is a little high (3.05, RB14 on Fantasy Football Calculator), I fully expect that to drop a round or two between now and when the season starts. Why? The rookie hype! Between now and September, fantasy analysts and beat writers will speak highly of rookies doing well. I anticipate Kareem Hunt will be one of these guys.
The reason why I think Kareem Hunt won’t make a dynasty impact until next year or 2019 is the fact that Spencer Ware is still really good. Before his concussion against Indianapolis in Week 8, he averaged 82 yards rushing, 47 yards receiving, and three touchdowns, not to mention he averaged 16 attempts and almost three catches a game as well. Here is what those stats look like over a 16 game season:
Spencer Ware Weeks 1-7 Stats Projected over 16 Games
256 Carries for 1312 Rushing Yards
40 Catches for 752 Receiving Yards
8 Total Touchdowns
These numbers don’t obviously tell the tale for the rest of the season, but Ware’s production over the first half of the season were RB1 numbers and they are certainly comparable to the big name running backs, such as David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliot, LeSean McCoy, etc. Ware is susceptible to injury, so while I don’t think he will eclipse these numbers, it’s something to look at.
Another thing to think about are the skill sets of both Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware. Hunt is known for his balance and his vision, while Ware is also known for those two.
Both are not known for their breakaway speed, as Ware ran the 40 time in 4.62, just like Hunt. They are good pass catchers as well. Hunt finished with 41 receptions his senior season and Ware caught 33 passes last year. While Kareem Hunt is hard to bring down, Spencer Ware is a different beast, as he has nearly 15 pounds on Hunt and is a physically imposing runner. Looking at it objectively, there isn’t a whole lot of things that Kareem Hunt does better than Ware. So what do we do with the Chiefs backfield?
Kareem Hunt’s Role in 2017
This will more than likely be a committee approach. While I think Kareem Hunt will be involved early, Spencer Ware will get early down work and some 3rd down plays. Charcandrick West is still on the roster, so even though he struggled last year, it is possible he gets some snaps as well. Hunt will mix in with the two, being second in line for carries. In a Chiefs offense where the running back is a focal point of the offense, sometimes being second in carries can prove beneficial. I just do not see a situation where Hunt becomes the feature back.
Now it seems like I may be hating on Kareem Hunt, but that is just his outlook in 2017. In dynasty rookie drafts, I love the ADP of Kareem Hunt at 2.05. Fantasy Football Calculator has him in a group of running backs including Jeremy McNichols, Donta Foreman, Jamaal Williams, and Marlon Mack. Kansas City features the running back more than most teams and Hunt has an easier path to the top more than some of these handcuffs. It will be interesting to see where Hunt goes when the season gets closer, but in the primetime of rookie drafts, the second round price to get Hunt is valuable. I would highly recommend grabbing Hunt if you are a Spencer Ware owner or if you are weak at running back. Teams with shaky running backs could grab Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon in the first round and Kareem Hunt in the second and have a chance to immediately improve their running back corps.
In redraft leagues, Hunt is a solid late round flier. In PPR leagues, he has an ADP of 11.08 and an ADP of 12.07 in standard leagues. These are the rounds where you are filling out your bench spots and deciding on what kind of fantasy football player you are, it would be a good depth pick. Selecting Kareem Hunt as your 5th or 6th running back could prove beneficial, as he offers that rookie upside that some guys like Giovani Bernard, Jonathan Williams, and Dion Lewis cannot give you. If Spencer Ware becomes injured, you have a locked and loaded RB2 at worst. Despite this, you may become frustrated if you spend high capital on Kareem Hunt, as he could realistically be on the wrong side of a committee. I would take him in the 11th to round out my team, but anything above that would be too much for me.
The Final Verdict
Kareem Hunt is definitely a part of the future of the Chiefs backfield. They traded up to get Patrick Mahomes II and traded up for Hunt as well. John Dorsey and the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs organization know what they have for the next 10 years. For this year, I don’t believe they have to rely on both guys. The Chiefs are loaded with talent and don’t have to thrust Mahomes or Hunt into the fire. I think Hunt will be mixed in with both Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West. If all are involved and nobody gets injured, Hunt is probably an RB4. But if Ware does get another concussion, he could easily be supplanted by Hunt. If that happens, Kareem Hunt enters RB2 territory with a possibility for RB1 numbers.
135 Carries 630 Yards 4 Touchdowns
22 Catches 133 Yards 1 Touchdown
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(video taken from @DraftBreakdown)
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