Kareem Hunt is More Than a Fantasy Handcuff in 2021

Jun 10, 2021
Kareem Hunt is More Than a Fantasy Handcuff in 2021

Kareem Hunt’s four-year career is akin to an amusement park ride, but leans towards the haunted house or hall of mirrors side, as opposed to the fun, thrill-seeking-type stuff. Hunt broke out as a rookie in Kansas City with 1,327-rushing yards in 2017 and followed that up with 11 solid weeks where he averaged 19.7 half-PPR points per contest as the fantasy RB4.

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In November of that 2018 season, video evidence showed some pretty awful off-field behavior which led to a suspension for the remainder of the season and more, and Hunt was subsequently cut from the Chiefs. Cleveland gave him a second chance a few months later and the former Chief became part of a very productive two-headed rushing attack for the Browns, finishing just outside RB2 territory in 2019 in eight contests, and as RB20 in half-PPR points per game last season with 12.5.

Hunt’s ADP is currently 56.4 on Underdog, and he’s leaving draft boards as the RB25. He’s a great target for those who prefer to start drafts loading up on WRs and a top TE, or for managers who like to roll with one elite RB at the early draft spots and wait for a handful of rounds to get another back.

Regardless of reasoning, Hunt is a player with a desirable floor and fantastic upside, and here’s why you should draft him in 2021.

A Non-Handcuff Handcuff

Drafting the backup to your own RBs or going after someone else's is a strategy that’s perennially argued amongst the fantasy football community, but with Hunt, it doesn’t really matter. Hunt performs as an RB2 on his own and doesn’t need an injury to Nick Chubb to produce as such.

Hunt saw north of 200 touches last season (236), with Chubb missing four contests, but even with his teammate in the mix, we can expect around 200 combined rushes and receptions from the 25-year-old in 2021. John Paulsen emerged from the projections cave predicting the Cleveland back to have 161 rushing attempts and 33 catches, which thankfully coincides with my thoughts on his potential workload.

When Chubb went down in Week 4 until his return after their Week 9 bye, Hunt was RB7 in both touches and half-PPR points, so there’s obviously insane upside if anything were to happen to Chubb at any point this season. However, Hunt’s proven volume in this offense makes an injury unnecessary unlike some of the NFL's other backups or 1B backs.

The 1.01 of Offensive Lines

The Browns O-line made a huge jump from 2019 to last season, adding Jack Conklin during free agency and drafting Jedrick Wills Jr in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. They ended 2020 as the top-rated unit by both PFF and 4for4’s Justin Edwards. PFF actually graded them first in both team pass and run block for the first time in the site’s grading history.

Heading into this season, this stellar line remains the same personnel-wise which bodes very well for Hunt’s potential in this backfield.

But...the RB Dead Zone

The idea that a production lull exists between Rounds 3-6 for the RB position is not a new concept and I’ve noticed it’s been fired up again this season. Yes, data shows that some of the backs drafted in this Dead Zone have underperformed, yet there are plenty of exceptions and Hunt happens to be one of them.

The table below shows all the RBs drafted over the past two seasons between Rounds 3-6 and their respective fantasy finishes.

ADP & Finishes for RBs Drafted Between Rounds 3-6, 2019 & 2020
Player Year ADP Positional ADP .5-PPR/G Positional Finish
Chris Carson 2020 3.02 RB16 RB13
David Johnson 2020 3.05 RB17 RB15
Todd Gurley 2020 3.06 RB18 RB32
Jonathan Taylor 2020 3.09 RB19 RB9
Le'Veon Bell 2020 3.10 RB20 RB65
Leonard Fournette 2020 3.11 RB21 RB37
Melvin Gordon 2020 4.03 RB22 RB22
Mark Ingram 2020 4.06 RB23 RB75
Devin Singletary 2020 4.10 RB24 RB45
Raheem Mostert 2020 5.01 RB25 RB25
Cam Akers 2020 5.05 RB26 RB49
Kareem Hunt 2020 5.06 RB27 RB20
Ronald Jones 2020 5.08 RB28 RB21
David Montgomery 2020 5.12 RB29 RB8
D'Andre Swift 2020 6.01 RB30 RB19
J.K. Dobbins 2020 6.03 RB31 RB29
James White 2020 6.11 RB32 RB56
Damien Williams 2019 3.01 RB13 RB23
Chris Carson 2019 3.03 RB14 RB12
Kerryon Johnson 2019 3.04 RB15 RB30
Aaron Jones 2019 3.05 RB16 RB4
Devonta Freeman 2019 3.06 RB17 RB22
David Montgomery 2019 3.07 RB18 RB32
Josh Jacobs 2019 3.09 RB19 RB13
Sony Michel 2019 4.01 RB20 RB36
Mark Ingram 2019 4.04 RB21 RB8
Melvin Gordon 2019 4.06 RB22 RB16
Derrick Henry 2019 4.08 RB23 RB2
Marlon Mack 2019 4.11 RB24 RB19
James White 2019 4.12 RB25 RB26
Duke Johnson 2019 5.04 RB26 RB42
Phillip Lindsay 2019 5.08 RB27 RB24
Tevin Coleman 2019 5.10 RB28 RB39
Miles Sanders 2019 5.11 RB29 RB21
Austin Ekeler 2019 6.02 RB30 RB7
Derrius Guice 2019 6.10 RB31 RB27

There were 36 total RBs selected between the third and sixth rounds, 17 last year and 19 in 2019. Of those 36, 20 of them ended the season as an RB2 or better in half-PPR points per contest with a few landing just outside as an RB25, RB26 and RB27. There were actually eight backs who finished the year as fantasy RB1s from the so-called Dead Zone.

Sure, there were some misses out there like Mark Ingram last season and Duke Johnson the year before, but rushers from that portion of the draft have put up some solid fantasy seasons, with some even outperforming their RB2/3 expectations.

As a mid-fifth rounder, Hunt was the 27th RB off draft boards last season, coming off an RB29 season (in .5-PPR points per tilt). So far this year, Hunt is still being drafted in the mid-fifth round in Underdog best ball drafts, despite putting up 12.5 half-PPR points a game last year as RB20.

I do understand people’s desire to forego some of the backs and load up on WRs during that portion of drafts—in best ball formats in particular—but Hunt should be one of the exceptions here. In redraft leagues, strategies change a bit but Hunt is still certainly viable as an RB2 with tons of upside.

Bottom Line

  • Kareem Hunt is a fantasy RB unicorn, with enough stand-alone volume to boast a solid RB2 floor, plus RB1 potential if Nick Chubb misses any playing time.
  • The Browns O-line and their ascending offense as a whole make him worth his single-digit ADP, which is currently 56.4 in Underdog drafts and 64.20 in MyFantasyLeague redraft leagues.
  • Hunt makes for a great target if you want a nice positional mix in the first six rounds, or if you’ve taken one of the elite backs and don’t want to take your chances on the Zero RB guys.
  • Don’t believe the hype that RBs from the so-called Dead Zone are most likely to bust. There have been plenty of backs drafted in Rounds 3-6 over the past two seasons to actually exceed expectations, including Kareem Hunt himself.
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