Without a good running back, any NFL club’s offense is not going to get very far. And the Browns have one of the league’s best.
Or do they?
Last year, Nick Chubb rushed for 1,494 yards on 298 attempts, scored eight touchdowns with only two fumbles. If not for a guy named Jim Brown, Chubb would have the franchise record for most yards gained in a single season. An impressive 5.0 yards per carry ranked him seventh among all running backs with 100 or more carries. In addition, Chubb had 278 receiving yards with 36 receptions, 13 or which culminated into a first down. As a bonus, he is an excellent blocking back.
He gained 96 yards in Week 3 in a 20-13 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, but Chubb’s name began to show up in the league leaders list after a 165-yard, three touchdown output against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4. For that game, he was named AFC Offensive Player-of-the-Week.
Chubb’s 88-yard touchdown run over right tackle in that 40-25 victory over the Ravens at their house clocked him moving at 21.95 MPH, the season’s fourth-fastest speed for any scoring play and the second fastest time for a running back. In the replay, you can see Ravens defenders just give up on the pursuit (click the “Watch on YouTube” link to view).
Almost every week, his game totals were above normal: 122 yards, 131, 116, 106 (twice) and 127. It was a constant to see his name atop the league’s rushing leaders.
Going into the last game of the season, Chubb was the number one running back with 1,453 yards just ahead of Christian McCaffrey (1,361 yards) of the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry (1,329 yards). The margin was just shy of 100 yards, but he had the league rushing title in sight.
The Panthers were playing the New Orleans Saints who were fourth against the run while the Titans faced a must-win situation on the road at the Houston Texans whose run defense ranked 25th. Chubb and the Browns faced a one-win Cincinnati Bengals squad who were dead last in the NFL in stopping the run.
The Saints killed Carolina as expected 42-10 while McCaffrey carried only nine times for 26 yards. Instead of pounding the ball, Cleveland head coach Freddie Kitchens ran Chubb eight times in the first half for 21 yards and just five carries in the second half for a mere 20 yards for 41 total yards against the NFL’s worst rushing defense.
Meanwhile, Henry had a career day against the Texans as Tennessee’s 35-14 win got them into the playoffs. Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel got the memo to run against clubs who have poor run defense. Henry’s totals were 32 carries, 211 yards, three touchdowns with zero fumbles.
The huge day for Henry coupled with poor performances by both Chubb and McCaffrey catapulted Henry for the league rushing crown.
So, after a grand season in which a Titan effort by Henry snatched away the league’s rushing title in the 11th hour from Chubb, everyone should be on-board with the workhorse superstar effort also known as Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns, correct?
Not so fast. Every sports news outlet is running articles about up-and-coming players.
ESPN wrote about how Melvin Gordon of the Denver Broncos will explode in his new home. Bleacher Report did a piece about how Alvin Kamara is the next budding superstar. USA Today has covered Ezekiel Elliott since he tested positive for COVID and how he is such a weapon and a force. This year’s media darling running back, McCaffrey, has been highlighted on theundefeated.com about how special a player he is and that this season will be his breakout year.
Chubb? Other than the various websites dedicated to covering the Browns - nothing but crickets.
Yahoo! Sports recently ran a full reveal about running back production for 2020. They listed six guys in the “Elite Class” which included McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Elliott, Kamara, Dalvin Cook and Henry.
“Level 2” included Kenyan Drake, Chubb, Joe Mixon, Austin Ekeler, rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Miles Sanders.
Drake finished 22nd in the league last year in total rushing yards with 817. Mixon is listed at number 9, while the remainder of this second level of running backs finished outside the Top 25.
Then there’s fantasy football.
According to CBS Sports, in their fantasy leagues Chubb is listed as their seventh top running back behind McCaffrey, Barkley, Henry, Elliott, Kamara and Cook. Why?
ESPN fantasy football rankings has Chubb listed as the 21st overall best player to draft. It is understandable for quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson to be rated above Chubb, but TE George Kittle? WR Davante Adams? They also list Chubb as the eighth best running back just behind Aaron Jones. That’s the same Aaron Jones who needed the final game last year to crack 1,000 yards.
In fantasy, players are ranked by “projections.” That calculates basically to what a player is expected to do in all the offensively scoring situations that will generate points for the fantasy team owner. In fantasy, there aren’t any brownie points for taking on a linebacker on a delayed blitz. Instead, it’s numbers, numbers, numbers. And apparently, Chubb will get you yardage and be at the top of the leader board, but scoring is what matters most and his numbers - eight TD’s in each of his two NFL seasons - are considered low. Plus, he didn’t score a single touchdown in the passing game.
The past few years, the Browns have been pretty pedestrian on offense which does not help Chubb’s case as one of the league’s premier backs. This unit is routinely plagued with penalties and turnovers and frankly doesn’t score a lot of points as Cleveland was 20th last year in total touchdowns scored. While the Ravens scored 64 TD’s, the Browns netted only 38.
And Cleveland last season under Kitchens was in the bottom third in rushing touchdowns and ranked 29th in passing. This allowed defenses to prepare for the run more.
Athlon Sports lists McCaffrey, Elliott, Barkley and Kamara as “Tier 1” players while Cook, Chubb and Henry are slotted into “Tier 2.” Their assessment on Chubb:
“Unfortunately for Chubb, Kareem Hunt is still on the Browns. If he wasn’t, Chubb would be in Tier 1. But with Hunt sharing some of the work (he was suspended the first eight games) last season, Chubb still put up great numbers: 1,494 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He had seven games with more than 100 rushing yards. Hunt will take some of that (and some receptions) away, but Chubb is still an RB1.”
Which is a valid point. In the first eight games last year, Chubb gained 803 yards rushing of his 1,494 yards without Hunt in the same backfield. It was just three short seasons ago that Hunt was the NFL rushing leader himself (2017) and made the Pro Bowl, was named NFL Rookie-of-the-Year and placed on the NFL All-Rookie Team. When he was cut midway through the 2018 season, he was leading the league in rushing as well.
CBS Sports Senior Fantasy Writer Dave Richard lists Chubb at number 11. Along with the usual big names, he places above Chubb guys like Josh Jacobs (1,150 yards), Kansas City Chiefs rookie Edwards-Helaire and Sanders (818).
Chubb was leading the NFL last season until the league rushing title was snatched away from him in the final game. Was he a one-hit wonder, or the stud workhorse Browns’ fans have come to know and love? Why isn’t anyone talking about him?