Can Kareem Hunt redeem himself with Cleveland Browns?

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 21: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after a run during the first quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 21: Kareem Hunt #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts after a run during the first quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images) /

Kareem Hunt was incredible on the field for Kansas City, before ruining his reputation off the field and potentially destroying his NFL career. Can he redeem himself with the Cleveland Browns in 2019?

After a breakout rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs in which he accumulated nearly 1,800 total yards, Kareem Hunt has taken a precipitous fall. That fall was warranted, stemming from an assault caught on video that forced Kansas City’s hand in releasing Hunt outright. His off-field transgressions caused him to miss a large chunk of last season and will keep him suspended for the first half of the 2019 season as well.

Hunt has a lot of repairing to do. He must repair his image. He must repair his standing in the league. And he has to repair his game after such a long layoff. The Cleveland Browns gave him the second chance we knew someone would. It remains to be seen what role Hunt will play for the Browns this season, though, particularly after a reportedly tumultuous encounter at a bar recently.

A number of the most intriguing players in the NFL switched teams this offseason. For one reason or another, these stars find themselves in new homes for the 2019 season. Each has a story behind their move, and all have question marks surrounding their future. Can Kareem Hunt redeem himself and his career with the Cleveland Browns?

Two brothers from New York, Dan Salem and Todd Salem, debate Kareem Hunt in today’s NFL Sports Debate.

Todd Salem:

As stated, Kareem Hunt was miraculous as a rookie runner. Counting his 11 games from 2018, he has 25 career touchdowns in 27 career games and averages 5.6 yards every time he touches the ball. It is top-of-the-league stuff in terms of production. There are a few issues, though, even beyond the forced layoff.

Hunt is joining a new offense in Cleveland. Even in ideal circumstances, acclimating an impact player into a new offense takes time and adjustments. This is far from an ideal circumstance. Hunt will be eight games behind his peers. Perhaps an even bigger issue, he also has someone standing in his way on the depth chart upon his return: 2018 rookie standout Nick Chubb.

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Chubb topped 1,100 total yards and scored 10 times as a rookie. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry, which is an elite figure in any era of the NFL. Though he only started nine games last season, Chubb will be the bell cow back this year and the definitive starter. Barring injury, Hunt’s return won’t change that — or will it?!

Did Chubb succeed as a rookie because he was sharing time? He only had 212 touches on the season. He was used to a timeshare even during his collegiate days, which is highly unusual for a high-drafted back. For further evidence that a continued timeshare may be in order, Duke Johnson requested a trade from the Browns, and the team denied his request. They see him as a useful piece alongside Chubb.

The reason Johnson became disgruntled is because of the writing on the wall: After Week 9, that useful piece alongside Chubb becomes Hunt — if he’s still on the team. As Cleveland, I would understand being worried about Hunt’s production if he had been suspended for two years and was out of the league for such a long while. But this is just portions of two seasons.

He played and played well last year before being removed from the lineup. I don’t expect him to lose his feel for the game this quickly, and the Browns will take advantage of his skill set in the second half of the season.

Perhaps the more important question is, should Hunt be suiting up and have this second chance at all? His past actions even beyond the assault in question seem to say no.

Dan Salem:

My instincts tell me this is not going to end well for Kareem Hunt. Keeping Johnson around assures the Browns that it will work out for them, at least this season. Pairing Johnson with Chubb has already proven successful. If it’s highly successful through eight games of the new season, will Cleveland truly rock the boat and destroy the chemistry and success it has built? Don’t fix what isn’t broken. This will likely be Hunt’s undoing.

The Browns are in the driver’s seat in the AFC North. While I’m dubious of their abilities to actually win more than nine games, getting over .500 would be a huge accomplishment and it’s also quite realistic. Cleveland is going to compete for the division and the playoffs.

Hunt provides an x-factor down the stretch, but its not like he’ll have any practice time prior to his suspension ending. Is he even allowed to see the playbook? When he finally joins his new team, Hunt will be entering a locker room that might not want or need him there. He was a great player, but we all know that is never enough.

Assuming the entire group of Cleveland running backs remain healthy, which is far from a guarantee, then it’s hard to imagine Hunt just slotting into the offense. He likely gets a series here or there, or becomes the Browns’ third down running back. They will start small and hope to unleash him in the playoffs, if they make it that far. Cleveland would be foolish to ignore talent and let it sit on their bench.

But it’s equally as foolish to force a player into your lineup because of past performance. Baker Mayfield will have a lot of say in Hunt’s success this season. Will he welcome him to the team and get him the football? It’s truly hard to speculate right now.

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Don’t count on Hunt in fantasy football. There is little to gain from eating a roster spot with him. Don’t count on Hunt as a member of the Browns either. The scenario in which he returns from suspension and finds success in Cleveland likely includes less than ideal scenarios beforehand: either an injury or lack of consistency on offense — and perhaps a losing record or unrest in the locker room.

Something must happen for Hunt’s presence to be necessary and welcomed. If Cleveland sits at 6-3 after nine games and is operating at full strength, with the offense clicking, then Hunt will be welcomed back, but only as a cheerleader.