Last year's Cleveland Browns received plenty of hype for the talent they had on paper.
One of their key additions, Kareem Hunt, wasn't available until the second half of the season, but that didn't stop Browns fans from fantasizing. If they're (insert record here) by Week 9, and then they get Hunt back? Watch out!
We all know what happened. But lost in the Browns' massive disappointment were the small sparks of potential displayed by Hunt, who still recorded over 450 all-purpose yards despite playing second fiddle to the NFL's No. 2 rusher in Nick Chubb. He expects to contribute much more now that he isn't facing a half-season-long suspension, mainly because his new head coach runs an offense that aims to maximize the talents of its runners -- just ask Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison.
"They run a lot of two backs," Hunt told the team's in-house radio show. "I see myself just coming in and being a 1-2 (punch). You know, Nick and I just coming in and taking over the game every week."
Hunt's contributions came mostly in the passing game in 2019 as part of an offense that had very little of an identity by the time he was able to suit up for his hometown team. That was no fault of Hunt's, and it sounds as if it won't be a problem under Kevin Stefanski.
"They see me as a running back, not like a gadget type guy," Hunt said, "a running back in a 1-2 (punch) and I respect that."
Browns fans and the league at large were robbed of what could have been the best tandem in the NFL last season because of both Hunt's suspension and former head coach Freddie Kitchens' general inability to scheme his players to legitimate production. But the evidence of a special pairing was visible on the practice fields in Berea in the summer leading up to the 2019 season. Hunt flashed whenever he touched the football and was the best player on a field that also included Chubb, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
If Stefanski -- whose traditional power sets open avenues for success for tight ends and those occupying the backfield (don't forget about fullback Andy Janovich) -- can get Hunt going early, Cleveland's fanbase might be cheering on a pairing that could somewhat realistically flirt with an achievement last seen from Browns runners in 1985. Yes, it's been 35 years since the Browns last featured two 1,000-yard rushers (Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack) in the same season, an accomplishment that required Cleveland to hand the ball off to one of the two a combined 466 times.
By comparison, 2019 rushing champ Derrick Henry accounted for 303 of 357 handoffs between himself and Dion Lewis. Chubb, Hunt and Dontrell Hilliard combined for 354 handoffs, with Chubb taking 298 of those in 2019. Bernie Kosar and Gary Danielson combined to attempt 411 passes in 1985, while Baker Mayfield threw the ball 534 times in 2019. It's a different era for run-pass distribution.
But is it? Stefanski's Vikings offense handed off to Cook 250 times in 14 games, gave the ball to Mattison 100 times in 13 games and even saw Mike Boone tote the rock 49 times in 16 games. You math wizards working without your calculators know that's darn near 400 combined carries (399 to be exact). Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins attempted 444 passes, which is much closer to the Kosar/Danielson total of 411. Perhaps run-pass distribution isn't as skewed as we thought.
That's a knee-deep dive into the numbers to project what might be possible for the Browns this season. After all, it is June and the pools are open.
One thing is for sure with Hunt: Whether it's one carry or 100, they'll all be handled the same way.
"Anytime I can get on that field and make something happen, between running the football and blocking, I'm gonna give it 110 every time," Hunt said. "I'm ready to get out there and do whatever they ask."