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Kareem Hunt rides success in passing game, continues to find ways to score

A limited rushing attack hasn’t stopped Hunt from finding ways to reach the end zone

Kareem Hunt has always taken pride in being a running back capable of doing more than running the football.

He originally added his name to the list of top running backs in the NFL in 2017, when he led the league in rushing yards as a rookie with the Kansas City Chiefs and gashed opposing defenses with his fearless style of running. The Browns loved Hunt's rushing game when they signed him as a free agent in 2019, but that wasn't the only characteristic of Hunt's game that made him great.

Hunt is one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, too, and those skills have set Hunt apart from other running backs so far this season. He leads all running backs with four receiving touchdowns, and his reliability in catching the football and making big gains after the catch have given Hunt one of the biggest roles in Cleveland's offense.

"I pride myself on being a back that can do it all," he said. "I can be out there on all downs. I've been working on that my whole life, so when I get the opportunity to make plays, I can make them."

From a rushing perspective, the Browns haven't found nearly as many big play opportunities in recent weeks. After rushing for more than 150 yards in four consecutive games from Weeks 2-4, Cleveland totaled 124 rushing yards in Week 5 against the Colts and was limited to 75 and 82 yards, respectively, in Weeks 6 and 7.

Plenty of reasons can be attributed to the slow down — the Browns faced two of the best rushing defenses in the league in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis in that time span, and they've been without running back Nick Chubb since Week 4 when he suffered a knee injury.

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Las Vegas Raiders

But the points and big plays haven't stopped coming from Hunt. The last two receptions he made last week went for a first down and a touchdown, which helped the Browns stay alive in the fourth quarter of their shootout win over the Bengals.

In Week 5 against the Colts, Hunt was limited to 72 yards on 20 carries, but he made four receptions in that game. Two of them went for a first down and a touchdown that put the Browns in the end zone for the first time that evening.

"It's a huge part of his game," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "He's a really good receiver out of the backfield. We're finding ways to get him as many touches as possible. He's very valuable as both a receiver and a runner."

Despite Hunt's previous success in the passing game — he made 116 receptions for 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns prior to 2020 — defenses still seem to occasionally overlook Hunt as a receiver. He was uncovered on his receiving touchdown in the red zone last week in Cincinnati, and he often finds a way to sneak through coverages in the end zone when the Browns reach the goal line. 

"Most definitely," Hunt said when asked if he feels defenses occasionally omit him as a receiving threat. "I think sometimes they might forget about me."

With Pro Bowl wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, it's understandable to see why Hunt might not be tabbed as a top receiving weapon. But now that Beckham is out for the season with a knee injury suffered last week, Hunt's receiving abilities could carry even more value in the offense.

Beckham provided the Browns with a reliable red zone threat, and receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, KhaDarel Hodge and Taywan Taylor are all expected to fill the gap.

Hunt, however, could be a part of that group as well.

"He already has a big role right now, and part of that role is coming out of the backfield as a receiver," Van Pelt said. "It's going to take all of us to fill that void. We're going to have to run better. We're going to have to protect better. We're going to have to get open and use multiple receivers. We have to highlight what guys do well."

Hunt can do everything well, and that's what makes him so special in the Browns' offense. 

He knows how to find the end zone no matter the play call, and as the Browns gear up for the second half of the season, it's inevitable that Hunt will continue to be given opportunities in a variety of ways to score points.

"I just like smelling the end zone," Hunt said. "When I get an opportunity to make a play in the end zone or close to it, I'm going to fight my way in there, make the nice catch — whatever it is to get in."

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