KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs will get their first look at running back Kareem Hunt as an opponent in Sunday’s divisional round playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. Based on his time with the Chiefs and the season he’s had for the Browns, they won’t like the experience much.
The Chiefs haven’t suffered in the two seasons since they released Hunt following the surfacing of a video that showed him shoving and kicking a woman. They won the Super Bowl last year and went 14-2 and won a fifth straight AFC West championship this season.
That doesn’t mean the Chiefs won’t look at Hunt on Sunday and wonder what might have happened if things had worked out differently. They’ve had seven different backs lead them in rushing in 42 games since releasing Hunt.
“We love Kareem,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He was here and he’s a heck of a kid and I’m so happy for him that he’s doing well. Really, when it’s all said and done, that’s the most important thing. You put the game aside and you want to make sure these guys end up heading in the right direction so they can sustain that for the rest of their life and I’m happy for him.”
The Chiefs this year made their first real effort at replacing Hunt by drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round. His rookie season was good — he rushed for 803 yards, caught 36 passes and scored five total touchdowns — but not what Hunt’s rookie season of 2017 was for the Chiefs.
That year Hunt led the NFL in rushing with 1,327 yards. He also caught 53 passes and scored 11 touchdowns. The Chiefs have changed since then, Patrick Mahomes replaced Alex Smith at quarterback and they rely more on pass-catchers like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill than their backs.
Hunt’s numbers with the Browns this season were similar to those of Edwards-Helaire, rushing for 841 yards, while catching 38 passes and scoring 11 total touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire practiced on Wednesday for the first time after missing the previous two games because of ankle and hip injuries. The Chiefs aren’t yet certain he will play against the Browns, though his return to practice is a positive sign.
“I had a chance to see him in a couple of the rehab procedures as of late and he gets after it,” Reid said. “A lot of it is the way you approach it and the trust you have in the trainers and so on. … I’ll tell you, this kid, he just kind of went right at it. I mean, he was fearless with it and as a result, I’d tell you he’s probably a little ahead and we’ve just got to evaluate it. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize him or his career, I mean, that’s not what we’re doing. We’ve taken it day by day with him and we’ll keep doing that and just see how he does here.”
The Chiefs in October added Le’Veon Bell, who led the Chiefs in rushing in one game but has mostly been a role player, even with Edwards-Helaire out of the lineup. He hasn’t looked like the impact player he once was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, though the Chiefs haven’t given him much of a chance.
“I think he’s showing those flashes and the beauty of our circumstance [is that] we have other guys that could complement each other very well so it hasn’t been a situation this year where we’ve required one person to be the guy who carries the mail,” running backs coach Deland McCullough said. “So we feel confident in a role that we have for him that he’ll be successful.”
“Darrel’s been doing that since he’s been here when he’s got extended opportunity,” McCullough said. “One of his greatest abilities is his dependability and the staff loves him. We trust him. The guy’s got some skill set that again, when you put him in the right circumstance, the guy can show it.”
The Browns will counter on Sunday at running back with Hunt and Nick Chubb. They combined to rush for more than 1,900 yards during the regular season. Hunt scored two touchdowns in the Browns’ wild-card playoff victory over the Steelers.
“He’s been the lead back at times when Nick was out,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He goes in there even when we have both guys healthy and we don’t miss a beat. He runs extremely hard, tries to fight for every inch that’s out there.
“He’s somebody I really respect for how he plays, how he works, the type of teammate he is.”