Toledo running back Kareem Hunt is tested in the broad jump at the NFL scouting combine Friday. ASSOCIATED PRESS
INDIANAPOLIS — The top prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine sure seem to know their ABCs.
Anywhere But Cleveland.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson? He declined to play in the Senior Bowl despite an appeal from Browns coaches, then cracked on the hapless franchise during an awards show last month. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett? The presumptive No. 1 selection playfully begged the Cowboys to wrench the top pick away from Cleveland. Toledo running back Kareem Hunt? He said ... wait, he did not get the memo.
Where others laugh at the Browns — “You can’t take it too seriously,” Cleveland GM Sashi Brown said — Hunt loves unconditionally.
As well as anyone, he knows Cleveland is lovely this time of year. He would love to play there.
“It’d mean a lot. I would be home,” said Hunt, a Willoughby native. “I’m going to be a Browns fan until I die. I’ve been a Browns fan growing up, and I’ll be a Browns fan until I’m done playing football.”
The Browns should be so lucky to land him.
Hunt might not have medaled here at the Underwear Olympics.
The biggest question was his speed. The 5-foot-10, 216-pound Hunt hoped to run a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash Friday. He instead spun his wheels a bit, clocking in at 4.62 seconds — the 19th-fastest time among 28 backs.
Fortunately, though, these are not track tryouts. (Please see Mr. Belichick after seventh period). It is an audition for the NFL and, between the lines, Hunt is one of the best.
In a league that continues to devalue running backs in the draft, here’s betting the Rockets’ all-time leading rusher becomes the latest proof you don’t need a first-round pick to nab a first-rate rusher.
Consider: Of the NFL’s 10 leading rushers last season, only Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott was a first-night selection. This year, analysts see three marquee names: LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey.
Hunt should not be far behind. A bruiser with deft vision and balance, he validated his billing as the top-rated senior back by capturing MVP honors at the Senior Bowl. Two stats particularly impress scouts: Hunt led the nation in broken tackles last year, and he fumbled only once in 856 career touches. It was as a freshman, and he recovered.
“I don’t like having anything important taken from me,” he said.
Pro Football Focus analyst Josh Liskiewitz said he’d take Hunt in the second round over any of the three “big-name” backs in the first. Our guess is he goes in the third, just ahead of former Rockets tight end Michael Roberts.
“While he doesn’t have top-end speed, he’s a guy who consistently breaks tackles and makes guys miss in the open field,” Liskiewitz told me. “That’s the kind of stuff that translates. In the NFL, you’re not going to have a clean hole to run through every time. It’s not going to be Alabama’s offensive line against Vanderbilt.”
Hunt embraces the challenge, wherever the destination may be.