Another NFL season, another top-10 deliverance from an Andy Reid-coached running back.
Kareem Hunt erupted onto fantasy radars everywhere over the summer of 2017 when perceived starter Spencer Ware was lost for the year. There were already rumors circulating that the third-round rookie out of Toledo could overtake Ware for the lion’s share of snaps anyway, but the injury cemented Hunt’s status as the player to own in Kansas City’s backfield.
Hunt took the role and ran with it, leading the NFL in rushing on his way to a RB4 finish in PPR. After a long offseason, Hunt is a consensus first-round pick, being selected at the back end of the round in most drafts.
The fantasy industry has already set the standard in terms of ADP for running backs. The consensus first tier includes varying combinations of Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and last season’s RB1, Todd Gurley. With this in mind, could there possibly be some incentive to fading public opinion and ‘reaching’ in the first round to get your guy?
I believe there is, and I’ve thought this way all summer. My excitement for Hunt’s sophomore campaign reached a climax in mid-July when I passed on both Bell and Gurley, as well as newcomer Saquon Barkley to land Hunt with the 1.03 pick in a 12-team PPR dynasty startup.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself: “What clown could willingly pass on a 2,000-yard,1 19-TD back with the 1.03?” Well, I’m that clown, and this is why you should be as well.
The Andy Reid Narrative
There’s a lot of truth to this Reid-RB analysis. Hunt is not the first player to produce at an elite level under Reid’s coaching.
Using the world-renowned RotoViz Screener, we can compare every RB1 Reid’s system has ever produced.2
The first thing you’ll notice is the ceiling-seasons posted by Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Brian Westbrook. Each of these three RBs managed to score at least 330 PPR points in a season under Reid. McCoy came within just three fantasy points of tallying 300 points twice. It is right below that 297-point season from McCoy that you’ll find Hunt’s inaugural season. Also worth noting is the floor-season – McCoy’s rookie year while competing for touches with an aging Westbrook.
McCoy managed to build on the season prior twice through his first three seasons in the league. He finally hit his wall in 2012, still posting over 1,200 total yards and five TDs, along with 54 catches in the process. Imagine that for a floor.
Speaking of catches, Reid-coached RBs typically adopted something of a WR2 role in their respective offenses. In fact, these RBs listed over the last 10 seasons have averaged 121 PPR points per season just from receiving.
“But dude, what about Spencer Ware?”
Well, I thought about that. And while I do view him as an adequate football player, he simply cannot compete with Hunt as a ball carrier. I converted expected fantasy points, as well as fantasy points over expectation totals into my own data table to make the outliers more visible.3
Ware was trusted with a full workload for the vast majority of 2016 as a result of Charles’ knee issues. While he maintained a strong level of efficiency in the receiving game (24.2 receiving fantasy points over expectation), he was extremely underwhelming as a runner, tallying just over 17 rushing fantasy points under expectation. Ware finished 2016 with the third-lowest FPOE total for a Reid-coached RB since 2007.
Hunt, on the other hand, didn’t experience the same struggles. He totaled the highest FPOE total among the same group of backs. For reference, these backs combined to average 31.1 FPOE per season. Hunt’s 58.5 fantasy points over expectation aren’t out of the ordinary considering the position he’s in.
A hint of recency bias clouds Hunt’s incredible rookie season. From Weeks 8 through 12, Hunt averaged just 8.6 fantasy points per game, while his Chiefs won just one out of five contests. When reflecting on Hunt’s year, this is the stretch of games people remember the most.
While this stretch was rough for Hunt owners, there’s no reason why we should let a player’s four worst performances define his season. Despite this painful stretch, Hunt still finished second to only Gurley in total games of at least 100 yards from scrimmage. Only four RBs totaled more games of at least 20 touches, while just three managed more games of at least 15 fantasy points. Finally, Hunt ranked fourth among RBs in ceiling games (25+ fantasy points).
Fantasy Playoff Performance
Remember: it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Hunt delivered one of the best fantasy football playoff performances in recent memory, and it was overshadowed by Gurley’s genuinely historic three-game stretch over that same span.
Hunt averaged just shy of 28 fantasy points per game on the back of nearly 30 opportunities per contest. Positive regression in the TD department drove Hunt back to the top of fantasy rankings, where he rightfully belongs.
In fact, Hunt actually delivered the 10th-most productive fantasy playoff performance for a RB since 2007. Any guesses on who’s delivered the second-most productive playoff stretch over that same span? It’s Jamaal Charles in 2013, his first season playing under Andy Reid.
Is Hunt really worth reaching for?
The short answer is yes, but let’s not get carried away.
Despite finishing as the RB4 in PPR, Hunt is currently being drafted consistently as the RB7 behind the likes of Bell, Johnson, Melvin Gordon, and Alvin Kamara. While there’s a genuine argument to be made for perennial workhorse backs, there is no sense chasing Kamara’s historic efficiency before taking guaranteed RB1 volume with Hunt.
While Kamara is expected to see an uptick in usage during Mark Ingram’s suspension, it can be implied that it won’t last the whole season. Hunt, on the other hand, only has to fend off the less established Ware for touches. I would much rather reach for Hunt.
Elliott remains the RB1 in my rankings, while Johnson weighs in at RB2. After that, I’m fading public perception. As long as Hunt is healthy, he’s a mortal lock for top-10 production in Reid’s RB1-creating offensive system. With this in mind, do not hesitate to reach for the NFL’s reigning rushing champion as one of the safest first-round fantasy picks in the game.