Thank goodness I didn’t write this article in August, like I had planned to, or else I might look silly right now.
The reason I say that is because, on the strength of Kareem Hunt’s spectacular 2014 season, I was ready to put him among the top-five draft-eligible prospects for this year. Although Hunt’s 2015 got off to a rough start,1he has righted the ship and should be the focal point of the Toledo offense in Tuesday night’s Boca Raton bowl game against Temple. It has been reported that Hunt has been meeting with agents and that this could be his last collegiate game. Let’s take a look at this highly productive MAC running back and the reason for my excitement.
Similar to another running back from the state of Ohio, Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt was marvelous during the 2014 season, which was his age 19 campaign. Because Hunt plays in the MAC, a “Group of Five” conference, his situation is a little different than Elliott’s when we talk about young dominance and NFL potential, but it’s still something to get excited about. Pulling together all the Group of Five running backs since 2000 who averaged 100 rush yards per game in their age 19 season, we get this list:
|Player||Wt||Season||School||Age||Ru Yds/G||Peak FF Season|
|Lance Dunbar||205||2009||North Texas||19.9||114.8||RB81|
|Marcus Houston||219||2000||Colorado State||19.6||110.7||NA|
|Robbie Rouse||190||2010||Fresno State||19.9||102.6||NA|
For starters, it’s fascinating that only six players in the past 15 years have accomplished this feat. Even if this isn’t A-list company to keep, it can’t be a bad thing to have so few comparables. Looking specifically at Hunt, he is easily the most productive, while also being the biggest and youngest of the cohort.
What about 2015?
Thanks to a hamstring injury and a suspension, Hunt has played in only eight games this year, rushing for 894 yards and ten touchdowns, highlighted by four multi-touchdown games. By comparison, Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook lead the nation with seven multi-touchdown games, but they played in 13 and 11 games respectively. Closing the year with a bang, Hunt carried the ball at least 20 times in his last four contests, while surpassing 110 rushing yards in each of those outings. Let’s take a quick look at how his career trajectory2 compares to the trendline established by the NFL’s top ranked runners since the year 2000.
As I mentioned, his age 19 season was pretty special, but even in a “down” 2015, he still is ahead of where he should be for his age. For his career, he has 3,391 rush yards and 32 touchdowns. Here’s a list of everyone since the year 2000 to finish their career before their 21st birthday and reach the 3,000-30 club.
|Player||Wt||Draft Pick||Car Ru Yds||Car Ru TD|
Impressive group, for the most part, with some of the best young backs in the game – Gurley and Bell – among the players with a similarly productive career. Also, the lowest drafted back went 188th overall. For reference, that was about where the 15th running back was selected in last year’s draft. It’s hard to imagine Hunt going any later than that.
Besides Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, the 2016 running back class is wide open. If you’re looking for a big, young, dominant and undervalued commodity who could climb up that board in the next few months, I think Kareem Hunt is your guy. After all, maybe it wasn’t so silly to think of him as, potentially, a top-five back in this class. Check him out in this video from last year’s bowl game,3 via Draft Breakdown, and be sure to watch him in the Boca Raton bowl against a solid Temple defense.