By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs thought enough of Kareem Hunt that they traded up to grab the record-setting running back from Toledo late in the third round of April’s draft.
They evidently didn’t think enough of him to select him any earlier.
Then again, neither did any other team.
So when Hunt raced to the end zone for yet another touchdown Sunday, his second against the Eagles and fifth in his first two games, he set the football on the turf, went down in the fetal position and — well, he took a pretend snooze. The message came across clear: “Stop sleeping on me!”
The league is wide awake now.
In a season that’s already become known for an exceptional crop of rookie running backs, from Dalvin Cook to Leonard Fournette, it’s been the unassuming Hunt that has stolen the show.
He leads the league in rushing, has the most yards receiving by any running back, and Hunt’s 355 yards from scrimmage through his first two games are the most since Marshall Faulk had 360 in 1994.
The five TDs scored against New England and Philadelphia are the most by a rookie in two games since Dutch Sternaman scored six for the 1920 Decatur Staleys, the franchise now known as the Chicago Bears.
“He’s a load,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “and you know, he’s talented and he’s a smart kid, which helps in that position. Because that’s a tough one. You have a lot of things that you have to learn as a rookie coming in.
“I’ve had a lot of rookies start for me over the years, but you know, the Brian Westbrooks — they could think on their feet and do those things. That’s what this kid can do.”
Hunt was never supposed to be a star this quickly.
The Chiefs envisioned a backfield where Hunt, whose speed and shiftiness are uncommonly deceptive, and the bruising Spencer Ware would provide a potent 1-2 punch.
But Ware went down with a season-ending injury in a preseason game in Seattle, and that made Hunt the undisputed leader of the backfield.
His first start couldn’t have been on a bigger stage: The Chiefs faced the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots on Thursday night, after they had raised another championship banner.
Hunt promptly fumbled the first time he touched the ball.
It was stunning deflation considering Hunt only fumbled once during his entire college career. But rather than hang his head, he vowed to make up for his error, and Reid and Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy made sure they gave him every opportunity to do so.
He wound up running for 148 yards and a touchdown, caught five passes for 98 yards and two more scores, and helped Kansas City to a come-from-behind 42-27 victory in Foxborough.
“You get in training camp and if there’s a fumble here or there, you get on him,” Nagy said. “But nothing is as real as it is on a Thursday night, in the middle of the biggest game of the night.
“You don’t know how he’s going to react. In that situation, it’s a win-win for all of us to just be able to give him the ball again, for him to feel comfortable and get his confidence back.”
His confidence was soaring by the end of the game, and that carried right into last week’s home opener, when he ripped off a 53-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Hunt added another TD run late in the fourth quarter that turned out to be the difference.
“A lot has been added to his plate,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “Obviously when Spencer went down a lot went on right there. But he’s handled it.”
He’s done better than just handle it.
Reid first learned about Hunt sitting in his office on Thursday nights, while he was trying to put finishing touches on his weekly game plans. He would put whatever college game was playing on the TV in the background, and often they involved teams from the Mid-American Conference.
Reid’s antenna stood up when he noticed the game-breaking running back for Toledo.
It wasn’t until then-general manager John Dorsey floated the idea of taking Hunt in the draft that Reid reflected on those nights. But with Jamaal Charles nearing the end of his career, and with little depth on the roster, it made sense for the Chiefs to try to grab him.
Now, he’s emerged as one of their biggest playmakers in a 2-0 start.
“Honestly, we have to keep it going and we have to keep winning,” Hunt said, when asked about the hot start.
“I just want to keep doing what I do, keep helping this team win. That comes from the offensive line and everybody just straining to finish.”
As for that nap stunt after his latest touchdown Sunday? Hunt just smiled.
“Stop sleeping on me,” he said. “That’s what I want everybody to know.”
Notes: C Mitch Morse (left foot sprain) was in a walking boot and on crutches in the locker room on Wednesday. Zach Fulton is expected to start in his place Sunday against the Chargers. … DL Chris Jones was the AFC defensive player of the week after piling up three sacks, forcing two fumbles and picking off a pass in last Sunday’s win over Philadelphia.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)