Rapid React: Kareem Hunt Signs with Browns (Fantasy Football)
Former Pro-Bowler and rushing champ Kareem Hunt signed with the Browns on Monday in a shocking move that seemingly came out of nowhere. The deal is for one year and approximately $1 million, according to Ian Rapoport. Hunt was released by the Chiefs on Nov. 30 after a TMZ video showing Hunt punching and kicking a woman in a hotel in February was made public. He was then placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, where he still remains and will remain until the NFL concludes its investigation and hands down discipline. He’ll likely face at least the league-minimum six-game suspension for domestic violence, but further punishment isn’t off the table.
The signing is a bold move for the Browns, but it’s one that shows Cleveland is all-in on its future as title contenders. The Browns took a major step forward in 2018, going 7-8-1 after winning a combined four games over the last three seasons. Browns GM John Dorsey was the GM of the Chiefs when Hunt was drafted in 2017, and it’s likely he made the push in the signing due to his past relationship with Hunt. This move will have a ripple effect across the NFL and may tip the scales in the Browns’ favor once Hunt returns from his future suspension. He’ll be a restricted free agent after 2019, but a long-term deal with Cleveland will certainly be in play.
Hunt’s signing comes with a slew of fantasy questions and speculation, and it’s extremely interesting news. How will Cleveland’s move to sign Kareem Hunt impact Browns’ players? Let’s go player-by-player to try and figure that out.
Kareem Hunt (RB – CLE)
In the wake of Hunt’s heinous behavior and looming suspension, he was picked up very quickly. This is in large part due to Hunt’s immense talent at the RB position. Hunt got his chance to start in his 2017 rookie season after Spencer Ware suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. He dazzled, rushing for a league-leading 1,327 yards and eight rushing TDs. Hunt showed off his skills in the passing game that year, totaling a 53-455-3 receiving line. In 27 games over his first two seasons, Hunt has averaged a remarkable 110.5 yards from scrimmage, 2.9 receptions, and nearly one TD per game. He’s a highly productive player who is arguably the most talented back the Browns have had in a decade. Once his suspension has been served, Hunt should be in line for a significant role on offense. Despite the huge season from Browns’ rookie Nick Chubb, Hunt will get work as soon as he’s available — he wasn’t signed to ride the bench. It will be worth monitoring the split in workload between Chubb and Hunt, but if Hunt is given 15-20 touches per game, he’ll be an RB1 once again. Keep an eye on Hunt’s ADP heading into fantasy drafts this year, because he might be a bargain.
Nick Chubb (RB – CLE)
Chubb-truthers have got to be upset with this news. Chubb seized the starting job in Cleveland last year after Carlos Hyde was traded to the Jaguars, and the rookie totaled 1,145 scrimmage yards and 10 total TDs despite starting just nine games. His scrimmage yards included 996 rushing yards on a healthy 5.2 YPC. Chubb will almost certainly start the season as the clear lead-back while Hunt is suspended, but it’s clear the Browns’ coaching staff doesn’t want Chubb to be a work-horse for them long-term. It’s yet unknown how the snaps will shake out in Cleveland’s backfield, but Chubb’s outlook is suddenly murky after he looked like a sure-fire top-20 pick in 2019 fantasy drafts. He’ll be an RB1 as long as Hunt is out, and he (like Hunt) may end up as a value pick in drafts when his ADP inevitably falls.
Duke Johnson (RB – CLE)
Although Johnson signed a three-year/$15 million deal in the offseason last year, he saw career-lows in carries (40), rushing yards (201), targets (62), receptions (47) and receiving yards (429). He had a small role as a change-of-pace to Nick Chubb in 2018 but with another skilled pass-catching back signed to the team in Hunt, Johnson’s role should be all but eliminated when Hunt returns to action.
Baker Mayfield (QB – CLE)
Mayfield set the football world on fire last season, setting the rookie record for TD passes with 27. He proved to be a valuable fantasy QB especially towards the end of the season, and he finished the year as the overall QB16 in just 14 games. Much like his college career, he was efficient, completing 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards in his first NFL season. Mayfield is ready to take a step forward in 2019, and Hunt will be the most skilled and explosive pass-catching back on the team. The Browns were the 14th-ranked team in passes thrown to RBs in 2018 with 110, and that number is sure to rise next season. Hunt has racked up 833 receiving yards and 10 receiving TDs on 79 receptions in 27 games as a pro, including 14.5 yards per reception in 2018. Skilled at making plays after the catch, Hunt should help increase Mayfield’s production in 2019 through his receiving and open up the offense with his rushing.
Brown’s first-round draft pick
An interesting ripple from this signing is how the Browns will approach their first-round pick in this year’s draft. A real need for the team is OT, and there are some good ones in this draft class. The Browns sit at pick 17, so top prospect Jonah Williams (OT – Alabama) and one to two other top prospects will likely be off the board. One of Jawaan Taylor (OT – Florida), Greg Little (OT – Ole Miss) or Cody Ford (OT – Oklahoma) should be available, and any of them will help shore up the Browns’ offensive line. Protecting franchise star Baker Mayfield is the top priority, but the signing of Hunt means that the Browns are committed to running the ball. Selecting an offensive lineman is almost certainly the direction the Browns will go in and with so many picks in this year’s draft, they could easily trade up to grab the player at the top of their board. The Browns could also choose to pick a WR to pair with Jarvis Landry and create a dangerous stockpile of weapons for Mayfield. Players such as A.J. Brown or N’Keal Harry could well be available at pick 17 and either one would be a bigger-bodied compliment to the slender slot-man in Landry. Picking a receiver after signing Hunt would give the Browns one of the most dangerous offenses in the NFL, so the move makes sense. My money is on picking an OT, but who the Browns select will be a very interesting story on Draft Day.