Chuba Hubbard Fantasy Outlook: A Skilled RB Handcuff in a Thin Backfield

    Entering his third NFL season, Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard is a solid handcuff with plenty of pop. What is his fantasy outlook in 2023?

    At PFN, we’ve researched more than 350 fantasy football players, trying to identify which ones are overrated, underrated, and priced right. With that in mind, here is Carolina Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard’s fantasy outlook for 2023.

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    Chuba Hubbard’s 2023 Fantasy Outlook

    In hindsight, Hubbard landed in a great spot when Carolina drafted him in the fourth round in 2021. It didn’t seem that way at first. Although all-world bell cow Christian McCaffrey was working his way back from a season-ending injury, Hubbard’s primary handcuff competition consisted of Royce Freeman.

    That’s why “in hindsight” is the key. Freeman was coming off a great (albeit low-usage) campaign. When McCaffrey got hurt again, Carolina added Ameer Abdullah, who looked terrific the previous three years in Minnesota and almost certainly would challenge for a significant role.

    And although Hubbard looked sub-middling, both veterans flopped. With the Panthers playing for little more than self-respect and draft capital, they gave the rookie nearly 200 touches.

    It paid off. Last year, after McCaffrey was shipped to San Francisco, Hubbard shared the load with another veteran, D’Onta Foreman. While Foreman played the clear 1A role, Hubbard showed marked improvement in Year 2, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while reeling in 14 of 17 targets. His struggles with drops (a whopping seven as a rookie) were a thing of the past.

    This offseason, Carolina added Miles Sanders but let Foreman walk. No, they’re not ready to turn the backfield reins over to Hubbard. But they apparently trust Hubbard as a seemingly invaluable handcuff. This team is pretty thin at the position, with only the smaller-framed Raheem Blackshear with a legitimate shot at sparse touches as the No. 3 RB.

    Clearly, this bodes well for Hubbard’s fantasy value. He’s a three-down-capable back with a rookie QB. If he earns any spot starts, he could become an exceptional safety valve for Bryce Young in the passing game. There’s certainly some pop to his potential.

    Where might that potential intersect with reality? Well, keep an eye on Sanders’ usage. For most of his first three NFL seasons, the Eagles limited his reps, which was rough for fantasy managers but likely great for his longevity.

    Then last year, they turned him loose in their run at a Super Bowl title. While his passing-game role waned, he dominated on the ground with a 259-1,269-11 rushing line. Including the playoffs, he collected 315 touches. It marked his highest total since his rookie year when he amassed 246 touches.

    How will Sanders respond after a career-high workload? While it’s not exactly in the danger zone, it’s robust enough to at least highlight it. He had only one bell-cow season in college. He missed four games in 2020 and five more in 2021 due to injury. Can he be “the guy” in Carolina’s backfield?

    If the Panthers opt to give him 225-250 touches (still quite respectable) as opposed to 300+ during the regular season, that could mean the difference between Hubbard being the RB50 vs. the RB75. Is he a handcuff, or is he the team’s 1B back, playing more of a Kenneth Gainwell-like role?

    If you draft Sanders, Hubbard is a must-add a round or two before his ADP. And even if you don’t draft Sanders, it’s often wise to snag a handcuff for an RB who’s missed double-digit games in the last three years and who’s coming off career-high usage.

    Make no mistake: the Panthers’ offense is still a work in progress. Veterans like Sanders, Adam Thielen, and DJ Chark are all new to the team. Young and Jonathan Mingo are rookies. That’s a lot of skill-player turnover.

    Hubbard is one of the few constants — a carryover from two seasons when this team was going nowhere. If he gets some opportunities, he could be one of the biggest RB fantasy surprises.

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