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O'HARA: Hunt likes to play keep-away with the football

Kareem Hunt likes to play keep-away with the football. As long as he has it and doesn't fumble it away to the opposition, he can get carries and gain yards.

Hunt did a lot with the ball in his hands in his four seasons at the University of Toledo. His production for the Rockets has made him a solid prospect in this year's draft. In 44 games he rushed for 4,945 yards and 44 touchdowns, with an average of 6.3 yards per carry.

He also put his name in the NCAA record book by scoring five TDs in the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl. That tied retired Detroit Lions star and NFL icon Barry Sanders for the record for most rushing TDs in a bowl game.

View photos of prospects during Day 2 of the 2017 NFL Combine.

Any time a running back's name is connected with Barry Sanders, it's an accomplishment worth noting. What is likely to make a bigger impression on NFL scouts is Hunt's ability to hang onto the ball.

Hunt had just one fumble in 44 games at Toledo, and none in his last three seasons. And it's not like Hunt was a role player who touched the ball sparingly. He had 782 career carries and 73 pass receptions.

"Honestly, I just take care of the ball," Hunt said at the NFL Combine. "I don't like having anything taken from me. I'm not going to let anybody take the ball from me, or anything important to me.

"The football's important to me. You can't gain the yards you want without the ball. If I fumble on first down, that's two other downs where I could have gotten the ball, and I'm missing out on an opportunity."

Hunt, who checked in at 5-10 and 216 pounds, has proven he can carry the load starting at South High School in Willoughby, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. In his senior and junior seasons combined, he rushed for 5,004 yards and 80 TDs.

Hunt should fit somewhere in what is regarded as one of the deepest classes for running backs in several years. Leonard Fournette of LSU, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Christian McCaffrey of Stanford are in the top tier of first-round candidates.

There are quality candidates below those three. Hunt likely falls in the range of third to fifth round.

Hunt helped his stock with his performance in the Senior Bow in January. Playing on the North team, coached by the staff of the Chicago Bears, he was impressive in the practice sessions and was the game's leading rusher with 15 carries for 118 yards.

"I feel like it helped me a lot," Hunt said of his Senior Bowl experience. "It showed I can play with some of the best. I came in with something to prove.

"I feel like I fit right in with the best of them. I bring a tough, physical back. I'm a guy who can make a lot of guys miss – pretty explosive. I think I can help the team at any point in time and be a game-changer."

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