PFN’s Matt Williamson released his rankings of the top 25 running backs in the NFL for 2020, and the Cleveland Browns’ RB Nick Chubb was ranked highly, as expected. There are plenty of great running backs in the game today, but few have matched Chubb’s success over the past two seasons, despite the situation around him. Let’s take a look at the players ahead of him, and determine whether or not Chubb’s placement in Williamson’s RB rankings for 2020 is warranted.
Browns Nick Chubb cracks top 10 of Matt Willamson’s RB rankings for 2020
Chubb made his first Pro Bowl in 2019, as he rushed for 1,494 yards and eight touchdowns on 298 carries, averaging 5.0 yards per attempt. He added 36 catches for 278 yards and fumbled three times on his 334 touches, two of which came in the rain against the New England Patriots. Chubb finished second to only Derrick Henry in rushing yards, carrying the ball five fewer times for 46 fewer yards. Cleveland’s propensity to fall behind in games certainly contributed to his lower carry total.
Chubb is an elite RB despite a less than ideal situation
To truly appreciate just how fantastic a player Chubb is, you have to look beyond his high numbers. He was the second highest-ranked player in the league according to Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric in his rookie season. He saw a drop off in 2019, falling to 32nd but some inconsistency is to be expected from a young player.
The Browns’ offensive line was fine in 2018, but last season, it was one of the league’s worst in terms of run blocking (it was about average in pass protection). The number of times that Chubb was hit behind the line as soon as he received the handoff from quarterback Baker Mayfield was staggering. Those issues are highlighted by Chubb’s numbers inside the five-yard line, where he carried the ball 15 times for -14 yards and just two touchdowns.
Subpar defensive lines consistently outmatched the OL, which did Chubb zero favors. That’s to say nothing about the playcalling of former head coach Freddie Kitchens, who was responsible for Chubb failing to hit 1,000 yards in 2018. Its suffice to say that there are plenty of good reasons why Kitchens was fired, and poor playcalling was just one of them.
Williamson ranked Chubb as the league’s seventh-best running back for 2020. Each of the six runners ahead of Chubb has significantly better offensive lines, with Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants having the most comparable OL situation.
The six players ahead of Chubb in Matt Williamson’s Top 25
6. Derrick Henry, Tennesse Titans
The NFL’s 2019 rushing champ, Henry, made his first Pro Bowl and finally lived up the talent housed in his 6-3 247-pound frame. He’s a devastating north-south runner who is incredibly difficult to bring down once he gets a full head of steam. But Henry’s lateral movement and agility are lacking due to his size, which is why he’s a perfect fit in Tennessee’s wide zone scheme. When he’s able to pick a hole, make one cut, and accelerate, he’s very good.
All of those positive traits can be applied to Chubb as well, and Chubb doesn’t have any problems with agility, even after a knee injury during his freshman year of college that looked like it could have easily ended his playing career. Former Titans right tackle Jack Conklin signed with the Browns this offseason, so Chubb will benefit from his presence in the run game.
Henry is superb, he led the entire position last season according to OSM, and there is certainly an argument to be made that he deserves to be higher than Chubb on this list. However, Chubb isn’t a one-trick pony, and he’s had to deal with a worse line in front of him.
5. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
New Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski was the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2019, and he ran the wide zone very well with Cook. The third-year back totaled 1,135 yards and 13 scores on 250 carries, with 53 grabs for 519 yards through the air. Cook is quick and agile and has good vision. However, it’s difficult to see him as a better player than Chubb, especially when taking into account the situations around the two players.
4. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Injuries slowed Kamara in 2019, but he still made his third straight Pro Bowl, rushing 171 times for 797 yards and five touchdowns. He added 81 catches for 533 yards and a score, the third year in a row he hauled in 81 passes. Kamara is electric with the ball in his hands, but he’s yet to show he can be a bell cow and stay healthy.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
Elliott is one of the league’s best runners, and also has the benefit of running behind one of the league’s best lines. 301 carries for 1,357 yards, and 12 touchdowns is a solid production, and Elliott added 54 grabs for 420 yards. Like Henry, there is an argument to be made that Elliott is better than Chubb. But if the two backs were traded for each other, how would Elliott fare in Cleveland? Better than Chubb running behind Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins? Not likely.
2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
The highest-drafted RB since Reggie Bush in 2006, Barkley has dealt with some injuries during his first two seasons, but he’s been as good as advertised, a home run threat on the ground and through the air. He had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, and although that number fell to 1,441 yards in 2019, Barkley also missed three games. He’s a great player and deserves to be recognized as one. It’s incredibly close between him and Chubb, and you can’t go wrong with either.
Christian McCaffery, Carolina Panthers
Branding McCaffrey as “just” a running back is a disservice to the unique talent that he is. McCaffery saw 113 snaps at receiver last season, catching 116 passes for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns. That was in addition to his 287 carries for 1,387 yards and 15 scores on the ground. If we’re talking pure runners, McCaffery belongs further down this list, but he’s not just an RB; he’s an offensive weapon, and is now being paid as one.
The six players on this list are all very good. However, Nick Chubb taking seventh place in Matt Williamson’s RB rankings for 2020 seems like the surrounding situations of each of these players is not being accounted for, and that Chubb is severely underrated.
With a much better offensive line in front of him, and (presumably) an upgraded coaching staff, Chubb is in a perfect position to succeed in 2020, and perhaps after another big year, he’ll get the recognition he deserves.