Former Toledo running back Kareem Hunt feels he is one of the top backs in this year’s NFL Draft. Experts say he could be a high second-day pick. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
In a running back draft class that stands out at the top, former University of Toledo star Kareem Hunt thinks he can push his name into consideration as one of the top-five draft picks at the position.
Hunt, the all-time leading rusher at UT with 4,945 yards, made a statement at the Senior Bowl on Jan. 28 by earning Most Outstanding Player honors for the North team after rushing for 118 yards on 15 carries.
“That’s definitely one thing I want to do is be in that top five,” Hunt said. “Honestly, I feel like I am one of the top running backs in this year’s draft, and I’m just going to keep working to prove myself and show people that I can play with almost anybody and I’d be a great pick no matter where I’m at.”
Most analysts and scouts agree Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey are the three at the top of the class. The three juniors figure to be drafted early in the first round, while Hunt, one of the top senior running backs, hopes to slot in shortly after.
“Once we clear the obvious potential Round 1 backs [Cook, Fournette, McCaffrey, maybe D’onta Foreman or a wild card like Alvin Kamara], Hunt is right there with the best of the Day 2 group,” Chris Burke of SI.com wrote. “ ... He’s a patient back who can kick it into high gear once he reaches the second level.”
Hunt’s agent, Dan Saffron, said the Senior Bowl is just one step in a long process as Hunt prepares for the draft. The next step is the NFL Combine on March 3-6 in Indianapolis.
“It’s definitely a good running back draft, definitely at the top,” Saffron said. “[Hunt] helped himself at the Senior Bowl obviously and he’ll have another chance to help himself at the Combine. I think he’s going to do well. When it is all said and done, I think he will be in the top-five back conversation on draft day.”
Hunt made the most of his Senior Bowl week by turning in good practices under the guidance of the Chicago Bears coaching staff, and specifically Bears running backs coach Curtis Modkins. Hunt said Modkins helped him learn the ins and outs of a pro-style offense as well as running out of an I-formation and techniques in pass protection.
“Toledo’s Kareem Hunt was the top running back going into practices, and it showed every day,” Dan Kadar of SB Nation wrote. “He’s advanced as a pass catcher, asserted himself in blocking drills, and has a solid combination of power and speed running the ball.”
Hunt knew if he practiced hard during the week, he would have a chance to shine in the game. He made the most of his opportunity, breaking off runs of 43, 20, and 18 yards, and catching an 11-yard pass.
“I had a great week of practice there and I think that helped me a lot and I just tried to take advantage of every opportunity I got with the ball,” Hunt said. “I tried not to do too much, and just tried to go and make something happen. All the hard work I’ve been putting in paid off. That’s what I’ve always been told is that if you have a good week of practice it will show on Saturdays.”
After his Senor Bowl week in Mobile, Ala., Hunt has been training at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He is spending time doing weight training, conditioning, and drills. Helping Hunt at IMG is former Cleveland Browns running back Earnest Byner.
“He’s a great guy,” Hunt said of Byner. “He’s showed me a lot and has been able to help me a lot. I feel like he’s been helping me learn offenses in the NFL and just some pass protection schemes and the way they do it.”
At the Senior Bowl, Hunt roomed with former UT teammate Michael Roberts. He said being there with Roberts allowed the two to reflect on how far they have come.
“We were just some kids at Toledo training at the Glass Bowl, and now we got to the big stage to be able to play at the Senior Bowl,” Hunt said. “We both had a really good week, and we just talked a lot and whoever thought we would be at the Senior Bowl rooming together.”
Hunt, one of the most productive running backs in the history of Toledo football, said he always will remember his time with the Rockets and the lessons he learned.
“Honestly, I will just remember where it all started,” Hunt said. “I will just take the little things I learned at Toledo and try and bring that to the next level. I learned a lot of good stuff from a lot of good coaches at Toledo. It’s been a great road, and I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.”
The process leading up to the NFL Draft can be a long, tough road, and Hunt will need to be mentally and physically sharp throughout the process. He said he needs to run well at the Combine and must impress teams in the interview process. But through it all, Hunt will not lose the simple joy he gets from playing the game.
“I’m just having fun with it,” Hunt said. “I’ve been doing this my whole life, and why stop having fun now. It means a lot to me. I love playing football. If I wasn’t going to get paid millions of dollars, I’d still go out there and just play some football. It’s definitely a dream come true. It hasn’t really hit me yet and it probably won’t hit me until my name gets called and I know where I’m going.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.