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Draft a running back? The answer might surprise you

Cleveland has the best two-back duo in the league presently 

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal Jeff Lange via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Every Browns’ fan loves these guys.

For the 2020 season, Chubb was the 7th highest selling jersey at season’s end - five slots behind QB Baker Mayfield.

Chubb was a second-round draft pick with the Browns in 2018 after a stellar career at Georgia where he rushed for 4,769 yards and scored 48 touchdowns as a four-year starter. Cleveland selected Mayfield and CB Denzel Ward in the first-round, and then took OG Austin Corbett with the first pick in Round 2, two slots before Chubb’s name was called.

Chubb came to the Browns after their disastrous 0-16-0 season of 2017. The former track star replaced Isaiah Cromwell and subsequently ran for 996 yards on 192 carries with eight touchdowns and was a valuable receiver out of the backfield. Since then he has been named to the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.

Hunt was a third-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017 out of Toledo. Another four-year starter, he rushed for 1,631 yards in his sophomore season alone on his way to gaining 4,945 career yards with 45 touchdowns. He still holds several Toledo career records.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In his rookie NFL season, Hunt led the league in rushing with 1,327 yards on 272 attempts. He was named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team plus the Pro Bowl. The following season he was again leading the league in rushing when the video became public. You know the rest.

The GM for the Browns at the time was John Dorsey who had drafted Hunt while with the Chiefs. Despite being on an eight-game suspension after the Chiefs waived him, Dorsey signed the talented back while the suspension was intact to which he played the final eight games of 2019. He came to the Browns on the cheap despite being one of the best backs in the league for one-and-one-half seasons. In 2020, newly-hired GM Andrew Berry realized Hunt’s value and inked him to a contract extension for two-years worth $13.25 million.

Contract year

The 2020 season brought up notions that Chubb and Hunt could conceivably become one of the few tandem backfields to rush for over 1,000 yards each - bringing out memories of Kevin Mack and Greg Pruitt.

Hunt and Chubb have completely different abilities and skills, yet got along wonderfully. Hunt is especially adept in the passing attack, whereas Chubb is a bruiser and an excellent pass protector. Both run the rock exceptionally.

But for 2021, Chubb is in his contract season while Hunt is signed through 2022. Every Browns fan knows what that means. Either management ponies up to keep one or both, or they trade one or both, or they allow one or both to leave via free agency, or they use the transition tag – on just one.

Chubb is facing his second contract this year, which should be a big one.

Oftentimes, an NFL club will not choose to offer a long term deal with that second contract. This was displayed after the 2019 season when LB Joe Schobert led the Browns in total tackles all three years he was in Cleveland, was ranked Number 1 in the league one year in total tackles, yet was allowed to sign elsewhere in free agency for that second deal that actually paid. Schobert eventually signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars on a five-year contract for $53.75 million. Schobert did indeed get that mega second contract - just not with the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The questions are: is Chubb headed down the same path? Will he get that second contract from Cleveland and remain in-house for years? Will the Browns pay him?

Chubb is set to have a cap hit of $4.246 million this year, up over $2 million from last season. Hunt’s cap hit is $4.099 million this year.

Analytics

The Ezekiel Elliott contract may be a point of reference. He was inked by the Dallas Cowboys for $90 million on a 6-year deal with a $7.5 million signing bonus, $50 million in total guarantees, and will make $13.7 million this year alone.

The Browns are an analytical club. Do the numbers say pay Chubb that kind of money? Do the numbers say let his contract elapse and then tag him next season instead?

Age is not the issue with Chubb as he is just 25. But the main issue is that his second contract will pay him in the neighborhood of $11-$15 million a year with a long-term deal.

His talents mandate that.

Or perhaps, the numbers say to draft a guy this year who will become the starter for three years of cheap wages and allow another NFL team the opportunity to pay Chubb that hefty second contract. Yeh, you read that right.

So far, are there any discussions on extending Chubb, or working on a new long-term deal?

If that is happening, nobody has said anything that negotiations are in progress. Of course, Berry is not obligated to begin this process; Chubb is under contract and will play for what his contract states this season.

What if analytics dictate that the fiscally sound thing to do is to draft a guy in the second, third or fourth-round this year who will play on the cheap and become the next Nick Chubb? Everyone has seen that the NFL doesn’t seem to value workhorse premier runners like Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith any longer and prefer the running back-by-committee style attack instead.

Cleveland has refined and groomed Chubb into a league star who is easily one of the Top-5 best running backs in the NFL. If the money says find a new guy and not pay out that huge second contract because of heavy analytics, isn’t that what this club is now based on? Heavy analytics?

Heavy analytics is the complex process of examining big data to unveil information that will help organizations make informed business decisions. The Browns are one of those organizations. The data reveals information that allows Cleveland to come up with an effective strategy that hopefully will allow them a competitive advantage over other clubs.

And some of that discovered strategy is not the most popular. Can anyone actually imagine this Browns team without Nick Chubb?

What players are available this year?

If the Browns decide to forego handing Chubb a second contract and decide to lay the franchise tag on him for a season or two, they will need a good young running back selected in the mid-rounds to prepare and get him ready for the inevitable transition. There are several talented athletes in this year’s draft that could fit the Browns scheme.

Round 2
CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Najee Harris – Alabama 6’-2”, 230 pounds – 40 time: 4.45

Harris, like Chubb, is a pounder. Unanimous All-American, First Team All-SEC, and Doak Walker Award winner. He brings power and has the strength to run through tackles. Very good at gaining additional yards once first contact is made. Excellent short-yardage back with some good - but not great - speed. Nice acceleration and an exceptional blocker.

Round 2

Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis 5’-11”, 191 pounds – 40 time: 4.42

Acceleration and speed are well-known traits with Gainwell. Very instinctive runner with excellent cutting abilities. Has a second gear once he hits open field. Powerful for his size and a very good receiver. Key third-down back and knows where the end zone is. Not the best blocker so he will need to be groomed in this aspect. Was Mississippi 3A Mr. Football his senior year in high school.

Round 3-4

Trey Sermon – Ohio State: 6’-1”, 213 pounds – 40 time: 4.57

Productive back who has had issues with third down conversations. Tough kid with limited speed. Can break tackles but will need to become more decisive especially on inside runs. Scheme diversity is a huge plus as well as contact balance.

Round 4
Oregon State v Stanford Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Jermar Jefferson – Oregon State: 5’-9”, 215 pounds – 40 time: 4.55

This is a very productive back and a great athlete. Had 858 yards this past season in only six games and named First Team All Pac-12. Explosive pass receiver with soft hands and good vision. Tough back and can hit the home run.

Afterthoughts

If the Browns drafted a young buck this year, they could tag Chubb next season while Hunt plays under his contract year. That would allow the youngster a year of seasoning in order to become acclimated to the pro game and without any pressure to start. And then perhaps he would be ready to take on the starting running back position.

It would also give Cleveland the opportunity to see if the new guy can replace either Chubb or Hunt which eliminates the need to pay out a huge second contract to either. The shelf life for a running back is not that long anyway.

The hope is that GM Andrew Berry will see the value in Chubb and work out a new, long-term deal. He is an asset to this club and has paid his dues. He has Pro Bowl hardware to back up his talent.

Cleveland Browns v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Know one thing: the Browns will in all likelihood draft a running back this year. And if that back is someone like Najee Harris - or perhaps even Clemson’s Travis Etienne earlier in the draft - that inevitable transition from Chubb will be sooner than later.

Nick Chubb is loved by all Browns fans. One thing for certain: big data technology can’t construct any analytical queries for that.

Poll

What should the Browns do with Chubb now that he is in his contract year?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Go ahead and sign him to a long-term deal and pay him his worth
    (356 votes)
  • 20%
    Let him play out this season, then sign him to a long-term deal and pay him his worth
    (173 votes)
  • 29%
    Let him play out this season, then use the franchise tag on him next year
    (246 votes)
  • 2%
    Let him play out this season then trade him
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    Let him play out this season then allow him to test free agency and move on
    (17 votes)
  • 1%
    Trade him this year before the trade deadline
    (15 votes)
827 votes total Vote Now