Does Nick Chubb Deserve to be a First Round Fantasy Football Pick?

Does Nick Chubb Deserve to be a First Round Fantasy Football Pick? article feature image

Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nick Chubb

  • Nick Chubb had an incredibly efficient rookie season in 2018 for the Browns.
  • Ian Hartitz analyzes Chubb's fir in Cleveland's offense and where he should be taken in drafts.

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2019 season; this is part of that series.

The Cleveland Browns are everybody’s favorite dark-horse contender entering the 2019 season.

Sure, their defense and offensive line might not be the most-proven units in the world, but the copious amount of explosive playmakers at Baker Mayfield’s disposal gives them a similar preseason vibe as the 2018 Chiefs.

One of the key cogs in what has the looks of one of the league’s better offenses is second-year running back Nick Chubb. What follows is a breakdown on just how good Chubb was as a rookie along with an analysis on his fantasy football value entering the 2019 season.

Chubb is one of the tougher people to tackle in the world

The only knock against Chubb as an elite running back prospect is his health. He suffered a devastating injury back in 2015, when he tore the PCL, MCL and LCL in his left knee while also dislocating the knee and suffering cartilage damage.

Remarkably, Chubb hasn’t missed a game in three seasons since. He’s also proved to be every bit of the same freaky athlete that Georgia fans saw prior to the injury (stats via PlayerProfiler):

  • 5-foot-11 and 227-pounds
  • 4.52-second 40-yard dash
  • 98th-percentile SPARQ-x score
  • 90th-percentile Speed Score
  • 91st-percentile Burst Score
  • 57th-percentile Agility Score
  • 96th-percentile in the bench press with 29 reps

The former five-star recruit joins Saquon Barkley and David Johnson as the only starting running backs with a SPARQ-x score in the 90th-percentile. Attempting to tackle this ridiculously-athletic man was a burden for defenders in 2018.

Most yards after contact per touch in a season among all RBs since 2010 (PFF, min. 100 carries):

1. 2018 Nick Chubb (4.47) 👀
2. 2017 Kenyan Drake (4.29)
3. 2018 Derrick Henry (4.21)
4. 2012 Adrian Peterson (3.93)
5. 2017 Alvin Kamara (3.83)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) March 30, 2019

This ability to consistently grind out yards after contact is even more impressive after considering that only Leonard Fournette (35%), Royce Freeman (36%) and LeGarrette Blount (39%) faced eight-plus defenders in the box more often than Chubb (34%).

However, the idea that Chubb can’t threaten defenses as a receiver simply isn’t true. Defenses will pay dearly in 2019 if they consider Chubb as a one-dimensional back.

Chubb has the ability to work as one of the league’s most-productive backs … if given the opportunity.

Cleveland suddenly has a bundle of talented backs

Head coach Freddie Kitchens utilized both Chubb and Duke Johnson during his eight games as the offense’s play-caller last season. Both backs saw plenty of snaps, but Chubb clearly worked as the team’s lead option.

  • Nick Chubb: 17.5 rushes per game, 2.9 targets, 35.8 snaps
  • Duke Johnson: 2.3 rushes, 4.1 targets, 26.1 snaps

Both backs were remarkably efficient on the ground, as Chubb (5.19 YPC) and Johnson (5.03) ranked 10th and 13th, respectively, in yards per rush among 80 running backs with at least 40 carries last season.

Meanwhile, offseason free agent addition Kareem Hunt averaged 16.5 rushes and 3.2 targets with the Chiefs as the offense’s undisputed lead back. Only Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Saquon Barkley, James Conner and Melvin Gordon had more PPR than Hunt in Weeks 1-11. He led the league in broken tackles in 2017 and was on pace to do so again in 2018 (Pro Football Focus).

Hunt will serve an eight-game suspension before returning in Week 10 against the Bills. It’s tough to imagine the Browns not giving him at least a handful of touches per game after choosing to take on the bad publicity that accompanies this type of signing.

Hunt has proven to be one of the better backs in the league with the football in his hands.

Still, last season demonstrated the type of upside that Chubb can provide in just a half season as an offense’s undisputed lead back

Chubb can still return RB1 value with a reduced second-half role

Everybody wants to draft running backs in fantasy football who rarely leave the field. This is a great rule of thumb, but the reality of today’s NFL is that only a few of these types of workhorse running backs still exist.

RBs that played 60%+ snaps in 2018 regular season

C-Mac (91%)
Zeke (83%)
Barkley (83%)
DJ (80%)
Gurley (75%)
Conner (64%)
Kamara (63%)
Dion (61%)
Mixon (60%)

Maybe w/o injury: Shady, Miller, Fournette, Gordon, Guice, McKinnon
Chance to join list in 2019: Chubb, D-Will, Kerryon

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 5, 2019

The Browns handed Chubb the team’s starting running back job after trading Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars following Week 6 of last season. All the rookie running back proceeded to do was function as anyone’s idea of a top-10 back the rest of the season.

  • PPR: RB8
  • Rush attempts: 176 (No. 3 among all running backs)
  • Targets: 28 (No. 25)
  • Touches: 196 (Tied for No. 5)
  • Total yards from scrimmage: 972 (No. 5)
  • Touchdowns: 8 (Tied for No. 7)

Chubb is fully expected to maintain this workload for the first half of next season. His case for keeping it for the entire season comes down to two possibilities:

  1. Hunt’s one-year contract includes exactly $0 in guaranteed money, so it’s possible the Browns just wanted a high-quality backup on the cheap.
  2. The Browns have reportedly shopped Duke Johnson within the past 12 months. Hunt would be a ready-made replacement who could immediately step in come Week 10 and serve as an overqualified No. 2 back.

Hunt is too good to keep off the field, but that doesn’t mean he will or should steal any of Chubb’s touches.

Chubb is presently the RB13 in PPR average draft position. It wouldn’t be surprising if he manages to surpass Damien Williams (RB12), Todd Gurley (RB10), Dalvin Cook (RB11) and/or James Conner (RB9) as we find out more about those offense’s respective depth charts.

Chubb’s worse-case scenario appears to be a featured first-half role followed by at least an average of double-digit touches per game during the second half of the season in what figures to be one of the NFL’s better offenses. I’m inclined to take Chubb among the top-10 running backs in drafts of all shapes and sizes in 2019.

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