When veteran RB Tim Hightower left the Saints for the San Francisco 49ers in Free Agency last month, it left New Orleans without a reliable back-up #2 RB behind starter Mark Ingram.
And although it's possible that the Saints could still sign free agent RB Adrian Peterson to fill that role as it's been rumored; they still also lack another dimension to their running game: the "scatback" type of player capable of catching passes out of the backfield like former Saints RB's Reggie Bush and Darren Sproles.
As much as Saints fans are hoping that Peterson -- if the Saints were to actually sign him -- still has "some gas left in the tank", the reality is that he has virtually zero chance of being anything more than a 'power runner' and would not be an additional factor for the Saints offense in the passing game.
So just imagine if the Saints could select a player on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft this Friday afternoon, who's actually capable of filling BOTH roles?
Saints fans: Meet RB Kareem Hunt of the University of Toledo.
At Toledo, Hunt twice topped 1,400 yards rushing in a season, including 2016. As Toledo's "featured" running back, Hunt rushed for 4,945 yards in his career with 44 touchdowns. He had 1,475 yards as a senior, averaging 5.6 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns. But he also showed off his receiving skills -- something that the Saints and head coach Sean Payton covet -- as a senior with 41 catches for 403 yards, 9.8 yards a catch and one touchdown.
Pro Football Focus notes thatHunt forced defenders to miss a total of 98 tackles last year, which was the 2nd-most in the nation in 2016. They also add that Hunt has shown that he possesses great ball security, as he had just one fumble on a reception on 722 total touches over the past three years.
For the Saints, the biggest appeal that Hunt would bring is that he's not only just capable of being an every-down back; but last season he also proved that he can be a legitimate offensive weapon in the passing game by being a reliable target out of the backfield. As proof of that fact, Hunt forced the second-most missed tackles (22) in the nation on receptions for running backs.
PFF says that Hunt has outstanding balance through contact, and he's able to stay up through hits that bring down most RBs. They add that Hunt always seems to find extra yards by spinning off hits. They also note that Hunt is quick in and out of cuts, which as a result allows him to gets through tight creases at the first level before they close.
It's for that reason PFF says, that Hunt strings together moves as well as anyone in the 2017 Draft class -- making him one of the most "elusive" RB's in this Draft class as well.
USA TODAY's NFL Draft Analyst Luke Easterling says that Hunt's numbers are impressive, but college production is often a poor predictor of pro success. But Easterling adds: thankfully for Hunt, he also has all the physical traits to be a complete back in the NFL.
Easterling also makes the observation that Hunt may not have the level of explosiveness of Florida State's Dalvin Cook or the power of LSU's Leonard Fournette, but he still has a solid blend of both that allows him to turn the corner on the outside or explode into the secondary.
And Easterling says: Hunt's patience and vision allow him to sift through traffic and find daylight between the tackles. making him a tough player to bring down despite his small size (Hunt is "only" 5-foot-11 and weighed in at 208 pounds at the Senior Bowl, though he was listed at 225).
At the Senior Bowl, Hunt furthered his draft stock by rushing 15 times for 118 yards, including carries of 20 and 43 yards and was named the South team MVP. That impressed scouts enough to project him into the mid to late 3rd Round, which is where the Saints would likely take him should he still be there by that time. The Saints have two picks in the 3rd Round, at #76 and then again at #103 overall.
However, Hunt doesn't come without faults. Besides being a bit on the small side physically, Hunt doesn't have the "breakaway" speed that Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles had, so he's not going to threaten to out-race an opponent's DB's in the secondary for an 80-yard TD run.
The other knock is that because he relies so much on his lateral movement (he looks like a "human pinball" bouncing around back and forth in a handful of different highlights), Hunt can actually make too many moves instead of just putting his head down and earning the yardage. Additionally, Hunt isn't a great blocker; and he'll definitely have to improve that aspect of his game at the next level.
Bottom line on this kid is that he isn't in the 'upper-tier' of RB's in this class that include Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette, or even Christian McCaffrey.
But he is good enough to play at the NFL level and play well; and if he ends up in the 'right system' for his talents, he could potentially become a "draft day steal" for some lucky team.
Perhaps that team could be the New Orleans Saints -- who have already worked out Hunt privately and may envision him wearing the Black and Gold.
Kareem Hunt maybe a "small school" talent --- but he could come up big someday in New Orleans, should the Saints make him one of their selections on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia this Friday afternoon........