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Kareem Hunt's Comeback Is Here... Or Is It?


It's time! Kareem Hunt is finally back as an active member of the Cleveland Browns. The last time we saw Hunt on a football field it was all the way back in Week 11 of the 2018 season. Hunt's suspension for the first half of this season made him an intriguing stash candidate in most fantasy leagues, with the hope that he could make a big enough comeback to warrant rostering him for these first nine weeks. Is it going to pay off, though?

The Browns have been rather mediocre this season, letting down their fans and those having shares of the team's assets in their fantasy rosters. Hunt's addition should only boost Cleveland's chances of making a late-season push, although given the franchise's dire situation and the team's overall performance there are obvious concerns about what Hunt will be (or not be) for fantasy owners.

Let's take a look at Hunt's upside for the remainder of the season as part of Cleveland's active roster.

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The Nick Chubb Threat: Timeshare and Opportunities

The first thing to consider when analyzing Hunt's upside is obviously the situation he's stepping into. Cleveland has been a bad team overall this season, which is as clear as water. The Browns are 2-6 through Week 9, have yet to win a game in their own stadium and are on a four-game losing streak entering Week 10. This weekend's matchup against Buffalo doesn't look good for Cleveland's chances at improving their record.

One of the very few bright spots on the Browns roster has been, coincidentally, running back Nick Chubb. He's the only Cleveland Brown ranked among the top-50 fantasy players of the year so far (he's 30th in PPR-formats with 157.4 fantasy points) and he's also the only Brown averaging 19-plus fantasy points per game.

Speaking strictly of running backs, Chubb ranks inside the top-10 in almost every statistical category this season with his only downside being the receiving game. Not that it's especially hindered his fantasy value. He's getting a massive amount of opportunities, amassing the fourth-most yards and putting up the fifth-most points per game for running backs.

Moving on to Kareem Hunt, the ex-Chief brings ample hype with him. And with good reason. Here is how Hunt's 2018 looked using the same charts as those presented for Chubb above:

In his 11 active games in 2018, Hunt averaged more points than Chubb has this year (20.9 to Chubb's 19.7), he was more constant with his outcomes, and he only had two RB3-level performances in his 11 matches. Chubb already has three in nine games. Compared to other rushers, though, Hunt's season wasn't as good as Chubb has been in 2019. He only finished eighth in points per game and his individual stats mostly fellow outside the top-20 rushers. His fantasy value was mostly aided by his high touchdown rate.

Given that, it would be fair to think Hunt will eat into Chubb's workload and take a fair amount of opportunities away from the Browns current lead dog, though I don't think that will actually happen.

The Browns, again, have been quite bad this season. I highly doubt they are going to remove their only viable weapon on offense from their gameplan to favor what right now is a question mark in Kareem Hunt. Sure, Hunt has a great track record and was having a great (partial) season in Kansas City last year, though he also played in an offense led by Patrick Mahomes. While Mahomes can keep any defense honest thanks to his ridiculous passing talent, Baker Mayfield has clearly underperformed this year. That makes teams more comfortable focusing on the backfield. That hasn't stopped Chubb so far but could make it tougher for Hunt to adapt to his new environment.

 

The Cleveland Browns Rest of Season Schedule

Another important thing to consider when assessing Hunt's viability ROS is the Browns upcoming schedule. Splitting their schedule into two parts we can see how Cleveland has gone through the "average" part of the season so far (left, lighter colors) and how it will be facing the "heavy" part of it next (right, between brackets, darker colors).

While the Browns have faced defenses that are pretty average against RBs, they are entering a slate of defenses that are either too good (Pittsburgh) or very bad (Buffalo, Cincinnati, Arizona) against the position. All in all, Cleveland has a favorable ROS schedule for their tailbacks, with only the Steelers posing a real threat in their Week 11 and Week 13 matchups.

I like the fact that Hunt's first game back will be against Buffalo. The Bills have surrendered the fifth-most touchdowns (7) to opposing running backs this season and the ninth-most yards per attempt. The Browns are (for once!) favored against Buffalo and enter the game as a three-point favorite with a low over/under of 40 points, which is the lowest in the slate. In what could be a tight game, Cleveland might lean on the running game more often than not and Hunt could benefit from the increased opportunities.

The biggest upside for both Chubb and Hunt will come in the fantasy playoffs (weeks 14 to 16). The Browns face one cupcake (Cincinnati), a bad rushing defense (Arizona), and a slightly above-average one (Baltimore). Although, the Ravens may be locked into a playoff spot by then, which could lessen the challenge for Cleveland's offense. While fantasy GMs that have stashed Hunt might not get a lot from him during the next four weeks, an uptick in his production should be expected from weeks 14 to 16, assuming he gets the playing time.

 

Fantasy Verdict

We all know what Hunt is capable of. He had two great seasons in Kansas City in which he showcased himself as one of the best rushers in the NFL. His 2017 season ranked as the fourth-best among running backs and he finished as the RB12 in 2018, despite an abbreviated season.

While Hunt's talent is not in question, his opportunities in Cleveland could be limited because of the other monstrous talent he will be sharing the backfield with. Chubb has been stellar this season, is the current RB5 in points per game, and the Browns' only reliable weekly player.

For those already with Hunt on their roster, I'd say the decision to stash him looked better before the start of the season than today because Chubb has maintained an incredible level of production. That doesn't mean Hunt is a bad player, or that he won't have a chance to prove himself, but the opportunities might be scarce at first. Hold onto him and if you make the playoffs hope for him to have a heavy role in that Week 14-16 span, or accept any good trade offer you receive knowing how limited his upside is.

For the rest of fantasy GMs out there, I'd advise against trading for Hunt as it will likely take a lot to get him. He's an RB1 talent stuck in an RB2 role and that won't change barring injury or a massive drop in production from Chubb, so Hunt is not worth targeting if it means trading away other valuable pieces who are in more favorable positions.

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