What you’re about to read makes me sad. And a little frightened.
You see, I like this player. A LOT. Quite frankly, I have yet to hear from anyone who doesn’t.
He’s that universally respected a talent. So it’s difficult to attach the word “bust” to his name in any way.
But this game ain’t always about talent. It’s also about situation, and that aspect raises lots of potential issues for our 1st-round bust selection.
Most of all, this game is about gauging upside vs. risk. There’s no question this young player wins in the former. The latter, however, just doesn’t balance with his Round 1 ADP.
Our 2020 First-Round Bust is …
Yeah, He’s Good
Browns RB Nick Chubb is really good at football. We know. So don’t bother resting on that as your counter to this article.
He averaged 6.3 yards per carry for his Georgia career … even with a dip following his 2015 ACL tear. (Chubb ran racked up 7.4 yards per rush before the injury.) He has followed that with 5.1 yards per attempt through 2 seasons on weak Browns teams.
Pro Football Focus graded Chubb as the #2 rusher among all RBs in 2018, and then #1 last season. Among all RBs with more than 60 carries, Chubb ranked 1st in elusive rating in 2018 and then 5th in 2019.
Football Outsiders rated Chubb 9th in rushing DYAR and 12th in DVOA among 45 qualifying backs last season. (He didn’t rate quite so well as a rookie, but we’ll get to that later.)
We’re talking about a superior athlete here, even when measured against the other stellar athletes that play his position in the NFL. Chubb hit the league with a 90th-percentile speed score and 98th-percentile SPARQ-x, according to Player Profiler.
So what’s not to like about him? Let’s discuss that now …
How Well Do We Know This Coach?
The arrival of new Browns HC Kevin Stefanski is widely viewed as good news for Chubb, and it should be. The Vikings switched from John DeFilippo to Stefanski as OC late in 2018 primarily because the former wasn’t deploying the run game enough. And then the lone full season of Stefanski as OC produced Dalvin Cook’s big breakthrough.
But let’s not forget that we’re still working from a small sample here. Stefanski spent just 21 games as Minnesota’s OC, including the 2 playoff contests last year.
Those 2019 Vikings put forth the league’s 3rd most run-heavy offense, rushing on 49.1% of offensive plays through the regular season. But the team’s 10-6 record played a key role.
Only the Ravens and Titans ran on a larger percentage of their plays in victories last year. Minnesota ran on 55.1% of snaps in games it won. In losses, however, the Vikings ran on merely 35.7% of plays.
Obviously, any team is going to run the ball more when winning and less when playing from the behind. But that gap of 19.4 percentage points marked last year’s 3rd-largest swing between wins and losses (plus the Detroit-Arizona tie).
What if these Browns don’t prove as successful? Vegas has them projected for 8 wins, tied for 16th in the league.
And what does Stefanski look like without Gary Kubiak?
The new Browns coach reportedly has long favored Kubiak’s offensive style and planned to incorporate it into his own scheme once he finally got that chance. When Stefanski’s chance came, Minnesota also had Kubiak on the staff as an assistant HC/offensive advisor. And it sounds like he worked closely with Stefanski.
"I just love Gary's demeanor and the way that he and Kevin [Stefanski] can communicate during the games and also during the week on game plans,” HC Mike Zimmer said. "For him to be able to come in and mentor a young coordinator was really important. To me, that’s about talking about your particular scheme and making sure that carries on in the future. I think that part was as important to me as anything.”
Certainly, learning from and working with Kubiak had to be good for Stefanski’s development. But this will be his first offense without the Kubiak guardrail.
Further, it’s probably not fair to just call this “Stefanski’s offense.” The new HC chose Alex Van Pelt as his OC and might cede play-calling duties to Van Pelt.
And it’s worth noting that Stefanski spent most of his pre-OC time with the Vikings coaching QBs. Van Pelt -- who brings 1 season of OC experience, with the 2009 Bills -- played QB and has spent most of his time since coaching QBs.
Cleveland’s franchise centerpiece remains Baker Mayfield, just 2 years after the Browns drafted him 1st overall. Perhaps he (and a pair of star WRs) garners more of the offensive pie than you’re expecting.
Dearth of Receptions
The factors that drive rushing volume matter more for Chubb than for other RBs around him in ADP. Why? Because he doesn’t catch the ball.
Full PPR has become the predominant scoring setting, so it doesn’t take mathematical gymnastics to understand the added value to receptions. But it goes beyond the sheer extra point you get for a catch over a carry.
You probably also realize without being told that RBs average significantly more yards per reception than per rush. They also score on a higher percentage of their catches than their carries. Let’s look at RB totals for just the past 3 seasons …
So losing out on receptions will impact Chubb’s scoring beyond full-PPR formats.
Chubb did manage to finish 8th among PPR backs last year, despite catching a mere 36 passes and scoring 0 receiving TDs. That marked the 1st time since 2016 that a RB finished among the top 12 without reaching 50 receptions or scoring at least 1 receiving TD.
Two other RBs joined him in the top 16 with 0 receiving TDs last season: Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette. But Cook caught 53 balls at 9.8 yards per reception (and scored 13 times on the ground). Fournette racked up 76 receptions on 100 targets, ranking 5th and 4th among RBs in those categories.
In writing last May about Chubb being overvalued in fantasy football drafts, Jared pointed to this stat from 2016-18: “The 36 PPR RB1s over the past 3 seasons have averaged 75.1 targets. Only 7 of those 36 (19%) finished with fewer than 50 looks.”
The 2019 numbers fell in line with that. The top 12 RBs averaged 72.6 targets. Even the median stood at 69.5 targets per player.
That group actually included 2 RBs with fewer targets than Chubb: Derrick Henry (24) and Mark Ingram (29). Each of those guys came out lucky in receiving TDs, though. Henry scored twice among just 18 receptions, and Ingram scored 5 times among 26 catches.
Chubb’s 49 targets looks like a good number vs. those 2. But he’s likely coming down from that total in 2020.
Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen just 5 of the 48 RB1 finishers fall short of both 50 targets and 10 total TDs.
So rushing volume and TD opportunities will prove especially important for Chubb. And now it’s time to discuss the biggest challenge to those opportunities.
The biggest factor working against both Chubb’s floor and ceiling is Kareem Hunt, who chipped away at the starter’s value as soon as he took the field last year.
Chubb ranked 5th among RBs across fantasy formats through Week 9 of 2019, the 8-game segment he played while Hunt was suspended. Chubb then fell to 14th across formats over 8 games with Hunt active.
With Hunt out, Chubb gobbled up 82.4% of Browns carries and 11.7% of the team’s targets. That would have ranked a dominant 1st among RBs in carry share for the year and 12th in target share.
After Hunt joined the fray, though, Chubb’s shares dipped to 69.9% of carries and just 6.4% of targets. That carry share still would have checked in 4th at the position, but the target share would have sat just 30th.
Chubb also proved wildly inconsistent as a weekly fantasy scorer both with and without Hunt in 2019. Overall, he finished just 9 of 16 weeks among the top 24 backs in half-PPR scoring. That 56.3% rate ranked just 19th among RBs -- and behind Hunt, who cracked the top 24 in 5 of his 8 contests (62.5%).
Things got uglier with full-PPR scoring. Here were Chubb’s weekly finishes before Hunt ...
And then with Hunt ...
Stefanski has indicated pretty clearly that he loves the tape Chubb has put up through 2 seasons. He’s no doubt drooling at the prospect of using Chubb as his RB1. And his system helped produce last year’s Dalvin Cook breakthrough. But would it surprise you to learn that Cook’s pre-injury rushing usage would mark another downturn for Chubb?
Through Week 10 last year (Cook sustained his initial shoulder injury in Week 11), Cook garnered 62.3% of Minnesota’s carries. That’s 7.6 percentage points lower than what Chubb commanded after Kareem Hunt took the field last season.
Cook’s particular share mattered less because he was also drawing 16.8% of Vikings targets over that span. Chubb would be lucky to amass half that share with the 2020 Browns.
Even if you believe that Chubb ranks comfortably ahead of Hunt as a rusher, we can all at least agree that Hunt sits well ahead of Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone as an all-around talent … right? At the absolute least, Hunt has proved much more in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus graded Hunt #7 among RBs in rushing each of his 1st 2 years in the league and top 11 each year in receiving at the position. Hunt also checked in 4th and 5th in elusive rating those 2 seasons, among all RBs with 60+ carries. Football Outsiders rated Hunt 11th in both rushing DYAR and DVOA in 2018; 4th and 6th, respectively, in 2017.
Nick Chubb is good at football. But it takes more than being good at football to generate fantasy success. And the more risk factors you have at play, the less attractive you look in the 1st round of drafts. No matter how much you like Chubb as a player, you have to admit that he ranks pretty high in risk factors.
What if the new coaching staff doesn’t hit right away? What if the scheme proves different from what we’re expecting to move over from Minnesota?
What if the Browns simply disappoint as a team again? Jared looked earlier this offseason into how much team offensive success matters for top fantasy finishers. The short version: A RB can certainly finish high without playing in a top-half offense. But his chances are better in a stronger offense. That will be even more true for a profile such as Chubb’s: light on receptions, heavy on rushing reliance.
But they improved the offensive line!
Well, last year’s group ranked 10th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. So I’m not sure how much the blocking actually held Chubb back in 2019. I’ll concede, however, that Chubb ranking well in their main rushing-efficiency metrics but just 37th in Success Rate points to him mixing big plays with lots of times getting stuffed for no gain or a loss. Indeed, the Browns ranked 4th-worst in stuffed rate.
Overall, though, FO’s numbers don’t indicate that Chubb has been significantly outperforming his blocking so far. He ranked just 18th in rushing DYAR and 24th in DVOA in 2018. And Chubb has finished each of his 2 seasons with fewer Effective Yards than actual yards. That stat translates “DVOA into a yards per attempt figure.” And according to FO: “In general … players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate.”
Is it possible that Chubb puts up a season like Derrick Henry did last year? Sure. That’s possible.
Here’s what else we learned was possible by 2019 RB results:
-- Aaron Jones can rack up 19 TDs on just the 10th-most RB touches.
-- Austin Ekeler can deliver top-5 fantasy numbers while carrying just 132 times.
-- Kenyan Drake can arrive midseason and turn David Johnson into an afterthought.
-- Latavius Murray can step in and win you 2 weeks if Alvin Kamara goes down.
You get the point.
There’s plenty of room for imagining what’s possible in fantasy football, and hitting on that upside is a key to winning.
But Round 1 isn’t for imagining. It’s for betting on what’s likely.
There are better bets for 2020 than Nick Chubb.