Continuing our look back at the 2018 rookie class, we turn our attention to Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb. Baker Mayfield stole most of the headlines and earned much of the acclaim for the Browns 2018 resurgence. But Chubb’s contributions should not be ignored.
In order to find some comparisons for the first year form of Chubb, I set the RotoViz Screener
to find rookies from 2008 – 2018, and selected some basic production and usage numbers as variables. I also included the draft pick. The influence of draft pick on a player’s opportunity declines over time, but it’s still relevant heading into a player’s second season. Then I asked the Screener to find seasons comparable to my target player.
Let’s look at some of the players that the screener threw up.
Now I know what you are thinking because I thought it too. This is not a terribly encouraging group of comps for Chubb, especially from a longevity standpoint. But I should stress that comps are offered as a possible range of outcomes, based on the first-year production.
But, after saying that, let’s take a quick look at how these players did in their second seasons.
Do you ever do something and then kind of wish you hadn’t? Looking at these second-year numbers is one of those things.
Jeremy Hill saw his rushing touchdowns go up in his second season, but his rushing yards and yards per attempt dropped in year two. Hill’s 794 yards came at a torrid 3.6 yards per attempt. He continued to find the end zone in his third season, with another nine scores, but he again plodded along at 3.8 yards per attempt on his way to 839 yards. Hill has played just eight games in the last two seasons.
Knowshon Moreno didn’t come close to match his first OR second-year numbers until his 2013 season. In this year, he managed 1,038 yards and ten scores on the ground, along with 60 receptions for 548 yards and another three scores. Playing with Peyton Manning really helped him, as you can see. But after just three games in 2014 with the Dolphins, he suffered a torn ACL. He hasn’t played in the NFL since.
Despite not enjoying a successful second season, Chris “Beanie” Wells enjoyed a breakout campaign in his third with the Cardinals. Wells rushed for 1,047 yards and ten touchdowns in 2011. Even then, he still only managed ten receptions. He suffered a toe injury prior to the 2012 season, and as a result, did not see the field until November. He managed 234 yards on 88 carries (five touchdowns) at a pitiful 2.7 yards per attempt. Like Moreno, Wells suffered a serious injury shortly into his time with a new team, in his case the Ravens. He tore his Achilles tendon during the 2013 preseason, and never played another NFL snap.
Zac Stacy’s second season slump must have contributed a tad to the Rams decision to draft Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. This move prompted one of the all-time great Twitter responses from Stacy.
Stacy, unsurprisingly, saw the writing on the wall and requested a trade. He moved to the Jets, with whom he spent a forgettable 2015 season. Stacy retired from the NFL in 2017.
Remember, these are not cautionary tales as to how Chubb’s career will end. There are many, including myself, who hope and expect him to go on and do very well in the NFL. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the highlights and lowlights of his first season.
Reasons to be Cheerful
To be fair to Chubb, and equally to be critical of the coaching staff that he was saddled with at the beginning of the season, it is vital to place most of our focus on the last ten games of 2018 when assessing his production. The image below shows just what he might have achieved had Messrs Jackson and Haley managed to stick with Carlos Hyde and not seen him traded to the Jaguars prior to Week 7.
Chubb saw double-digit carries in eight of the last ten games of the season, after having no more than three in any of his first six. He had at least 18 attempts in seven games and got to the twenty carry mark four times. His 5.2 yards per attempt average over the season was boosted by his 14 runs of 15 or more yards, the sixth most among all RBs. From Week 7 onwards, only three RBs in the entire league had more rushing yards than Chubb’s 821.
Chubb had three games with two touchdown scores, scoring four times in all in back-to-back games sandwiching the Browns Week 11 bye. Chubb averaged a mere 1.9 red zone touches across the season, but in the final ten games, he had seven in which he had more two or more carries inside the opposition 20-yard lines. He had five against the Chiefs in Week 9, and four in each of the Browns games against the Bengals.
Chubb’s opportunities benefitted from the number of plays that the Browns were able to run, as they finished with the 10th most offensive plays in the entire NFL in 2018. Chubb finished as an RB1 four times in his final ten games, with RB3 overall finishes in Week 10 and 12.
Reasons to be Disappointed
The major knock on Chubb would be his deeds as a pass catcher. He had only 31 grabs in four years in college, and showed little to suggest that he’d be a target magnet in the pros. In his ten games as the starter, Chubb mustered a mere 20 receptions. He had a single game with more than three targets — a six target outing against the Panthers in Week 14 that brought him his career-high four receptions. His having to coexist with Duke Johnson did put something of a cap on Chubb’s output, particularly in games in which he didn’t score a touchdown. Chubb’s highest weekly finish after a game without a visit to the end zone was RB24 in Week 16. The Browns were down big against the Texans in Week 13 and the Ravens in the (fantasy meaningless) Week 17 finale, and as a result, Chubb had a combined 18 carries in this two games.
The Browns were obviously suitably impressed with the turnaround from their offense after making Freddie Kitchens their interim OC that they went on to make him the head coach following the season. Kitchens has indicated that he will continue to call the offensive plays for the Browns. While the Browns were one of the pass-heaviest teams in the NFL under Kitchens (they attempted the seventh least rushing attempts between Week 9 and 17) Chubb isn’t likely to be losing opportunities, as his market share numbers would indicate.
It would be lovely for Chubb, and his fantasy owners, if he could eat into Johnson’s targets. But given that Chubb caught just 13 passes in his final three seasons in college, and Johnson has been one of the best pass catching RBs since he entered the league, this is likely to be a continuing frustration.
Chubb is currently the ninth RB being taken in mock drafts, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. The one major advantage the eight backs being taken ahead of him enjoy is a good solid diet of passing down work, so it is hard to argue with his place in the current pecking order. Even so, seeing Chubb sitting there at the one-two turn in drafts will give drafters something to think about, especially if we truly believe that the Browns are finally on the up.