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2018 ADP Throwdown - Kareem Hunt vs. Dalvin Cook

Fantasy football draft season is upon us and RotoBaller is here to help! In this series, two RotoBaller experts will discuss the merits of two players with similar value and average draft position (ADP). Remember that situations will change for all players over the course of the summer and it may impact where they are selected in drafts.

This article comes from staff writers Dominick Petrillo (@envisionff) and Bill Dubiel (@Roto_Dubs) who compare running backs that are being taken in the first couple rounds of fantasy drafts.

Dominick argues in favor of the multi-talented reigning Rookie of the Year, Kansas City Chiefs tailback Kareem Hunt, while Bill argues in favor of another sophomore who flashed similar brilliance but had his season cut short by an ACL tear, Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings.

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Opening Statements: Who Do You Draft?

Kareem Hunt's rookie season was no fluke, and he'll be a top-five running back by season's end - Dominick Petrillo

In his rookie season of 2017, Kareem Hunt became the second rookie in a row to lead the league in rushing behind Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. While Elliott did his damage in the rushing game and not so much in the receiving game behind a dominating offensive line, Hunt was able to produce in both aspects of the game. With 272 rushes for 1,327 yards giving him an incredible 4.9 Y/A average and adding in eight rushing touchdowns, Hunt is in for more work this season despite the return of Spencer Ware from the injury who put Hunt firmly on the map last season. With an additional 63 targets in the receiving game, Hunt compiled 53 receptions for 455 yards and an additional three touchdowns making him a two-way running back not unlike Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson and Melvin Gordon.

With the receiving stats not looking to regress in 2018, even with Sammy Watkins entering the fold, Hunt is looking to enter the stratosphere of the above-mentioned bell and Johnson along with Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott as the best running backs in the NFL. If the offensive line can stay healthy and keep new starter Patrick Mahomes upright, there will be a large role for Kareem Hunt where his 272 rushes should only increase, as he was not utilized a lot of the middle half of the 2017. He should also see a slight increase at minimum in the passing game which could see Hunt, currently the 1.11 pick in fantasy drafts, finish in the top four or five running backs at season's end.    

Opportunity is everything with Dalvin Cook - Bill Dubiel

The very obvious knock on Dalvin Cook is the sample size, and that's certainly not something I can debate. We only got three and a half glorious games to watch Cook do his thing, but that was all it took for him to show exactly what he's capable of when given the opportunity. Cook ripped off 354 yards on the ground on just 74 carries, good for 4.8 YPC--a mere tenth of a yard less than Kareem Hunt. I hate sounding like a "watch the tape" guy, but if you saw any of those games last year you know how special a runner he is. Cook also showed a nose for the end zone, scoring in both of his last two games. It's easy to simply dismiss those four games as "too small a sample size" to project from, but it'd be foolish to completely ignore the electricity that Cook brought to the Minnesota offense, which should theoretically be improved in 2018 with Kirk Cousins now under center.

The big factor that will help him take a step forward is going to be how much Cook improves in the passing game. He only saw 15 targets in his four games, but he hauled 11 of those in for 90 yards. Obviously, Cook was not the primary passing-down back last year (that was Jerick McKinnon's role), and so it's certainly not fair to write off any receiving production that he might add. It's a borderline guarantee that he will rack up 400 receiving yards in 2018, as the only real competition for snaps he has is Latavius Murray. Cook is the clear workhorse in that offense, and he'll be on the field for a majority of snaps in all situations. It's perfectly possible that they use Latavius Murray as the goal line back, but Cook will more than make up for any losses there with his dominance of passing-down snaps. Plain and simple, the opportunity is there for Cook if he stays healthy--McKinnon and Murray were BOTH top-15 fantasy running backs after Cook went down last year, and if he's on the field the fantasy production is absolutely going to come. Cook is coming off the board in the beginning of the second round, but he could very well be in the conversation with Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson by the end of the season.


Rebuttals: Why Take One Over the Other?

Kareem Hunt has proven he's a stud for an entire season--a few games isn't enough to trust Dalvin Cook - Dominick Petrillo

With both of these players being rookies in 2017, we cannot say one has an advantage over the other in terms of experience. But what we can say is Kareem Hunt has shown what he is capable of in the league whereas because of injury Dalvin Cook hasn’t shown it fully yet. Did Cook look good for about four weeks? Sure. But so have players like Jeremy Hill and Trent Richardson. Dalvin Cook may very well be the next Adrian Peterson for Minnesota (with better hands). Saying this though, we don’t know for sure. What we do know, at least from his rookie season is Kareem Hunt can be the next Jamaal Charles in Kansas City. A complete back who can catch and run the ball. While not being over-worked to the level of a Le’Veon Bell or DeMarco Murray in his final season in Dallas, he will still have the carries and receiving work needed to finish top-five overall in fantasy rankings.

With running backs like Alfred Morris and Samaje Perine in the backfield with him in Washington, Kirk Cousins needed to rely on the tight end for dump-offs unless Chris Thompson was on the field on third downs. He therefore is not as accustomed to using the running back in the passing game, so as good as this will be for Kyle Rudolph, this is not as good for Cook to show his receiving ability. On the other hand, in Kansas City, Patrick Mahomes will be using the tight end and Hunt out of the backfield to move the ball any way he can down the field. Especially with as bad as the defense is going to be this season for the Chiefs. While there is a good chance Dalvin Cook has a higher ceiling than Kareem Hunt, the fact of the matter is Hunt has the much higher floor as he is not coming off a year-ending injury and he also does not share a backfield with a goal-line back like Latavius Murray in Minnesota.

Completely different situation could lead to sophomore slump for Hunt - Bill Dubiel

Kareem Hunt was utterly dominant last year, there's no denying that. However, the situation in Kansas City is completely different in 2018, and I think that will work against Hunt. For starters, Hunt had literally zero competition for snaps after Spencer Ware went down for the season. That simply isn't going to be the case this season. Ware is back at full strength, and especially after being run into the ground last season, the Chiefs will almost certainly try to dial Hunt's touches back a bit to keep him fresh. This is a good thing for his overall health and longevity, but not for his fantasy value. Last season Hunt rushed for over 1,300 yards--no other team member (besides Alex Smith) had more than 72. Give Ware even 200 of those yards just as he spells Hunt, and it's hard to see how Hunt maintains his fantasy production, much less improves upon it.

Hunt's value was buoyed by his receiving numbers too, which might not come as heavy this year without Alex Smith under center. Patrick Mahomes has a sky-high ceiling, but one of his greatest assets is his cannon of an arm. The sophomore passer will certainly still utilize his running backs in the passing game, but it remains to be seen if he can do it to as great an effect as his predecessor, Alex Smith. Personally, I'm a huge believer in Mahomes, and therefore I think that Hunt likely won't drop off a ton in the passing game. But that's simply not something I can say for certain, which is really the main argument against Cook. Cook WILL get more receiving work based on his situation, whereas Hunt's status is unknown. Ultimately Cook's clear top-five upside makes him the easy choice of the two, while it's hard to imagine an avenue where Hunt duplicates or improves upon his outstanding rookie season.


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