There is no doubt that Nick Chubb has been superb through his first two seasons in the NFL, but as we enter 2020, will that strong start continue? Chubb was a dominant force in the Browns backfield in 2020, both in terms of the share of the workload (76%) and his output (1494 yards and eight touchdowns). 2020 comes with both excitement for the Browns, but also some questions over the size of Chubb’s role. What does all of this mean for Chubb when it comes to analyzing his rushing yard prop bet for the 2020 season?
Can we accurately project a player’s rushing output?
While observing the last 10 years of rushing data from the NFL for Pro Football Network’s Expected Fantasy Points (xFP) metric, it became clear that the trend between carries and rushing yards could have further utility than just for fantasy. In a similar vein to xFP, we can use the historical data to project a players rushing yards and, therefore, utilize it to examine season-long prop bets.
Now while it will be no shock that there is a correlation between carries and yards, what is important is the significance of the trend, and this one has some impressive numbers. A correlation over 0.95 is considered to be one that is exceptionally significant, and both the correlation (0.986) and line of best fit on the graph (0.965) are above that magic number.
This correlation allows us to somewhat cut through the noise and move away from discussing the strength of schedule and offensive line rankings. Those elements can be useful when the numbers are close to a particular threshold for determining whether a wager is worth placing or not.
How can we utilize this knowledge to our advantage?
Using a plot of carries against rushing yards, we can project the rushing yards that an average running back would have on a given number of carries utilizing the line of best fit. Let’s say, for example, that a running back is projected for 200 carries in a given season; we can calculate that on average, he would finish the season with 856.5 rushing yards. If you would like to hear about this in more detail, then check out the recent episode of the Against the Spread podcast where we discussed it in more detail.
If we then combine that with a view of the player’s history in the NFL, we can cut through the noise of strength of schedules and offensive line rankings in order to determine the likelihood that a given player will go over or under their projected rushing yards for any given season.
Is there value in Nick Chubb’s rushing yards prop in 2020?
The expectations for Chubb are sky-high in 2020 after a strong 2019 season. Last season, Chubb carried the ball 298 times for 1494 yards, which has led to his rushing yard prop bet having been set in the 1250-1350 region.
What does the chart tell us?
Our rushing yard model tells us that for Chubb to meet the bottom end of that range of outcomes (1250.5), he would need to log at least 290 carries while performing like an average running back. It is worth noting that last season, Chubbs 1494 rushing yards outperformed his expected rushing yards (1283) by more than 200 yards. That is an awe-inspiring return, with Chubb averaging at least five yards per carry for the second year in a row.
Will we see Chubb rack up close to 300 carries again?
There is no doubting the talent of Chubb, but his handling by the Browns this season could be the key to his success in 2020. Chubb will almost certainly be the Browns number one back this season, but the element of Kareem Hunt being available from Week 1 is a factor. In 2019, Chubb had absolutely no competition for touches in the first half of the season. Therefore, he managed to establish himself as the predominant ball carrier.
Hunt returned in the Browns ninth game of the season, and his usage was somewhat spotty. He averaged just 5.4 carries per game, with his main impact coming in the passing game, where he averaged 5.5 targets and 4.6 receptions per game. However, with Chubb now having a full year to have absorbed the system and the Browns having seen his talents, it is likely we see him stealing more carries from Chubb than he did in 2019.
If we break down the splits with and without Hunt active, we can see why there is a reason for concern. In games 1-4 and games 5-8, Chubb accounted for 83%, and 82% of the Browns carries respectively. In games 9-12, Chubbs split dropped all the way down to 62%. In the final four games, it bounced back to 67% but was still significantly below the first eight weeks.
If that trend from the second half of Chubb receiving around 65% of the Browns carries continues in 2020, then we could see Chubb sitting in the 255 carry region. That number assumes the Browns will log the same number of carries as in 2019 (393). However, even if we see that number increase to the mid-point of the league (406), he would still be looking at around 264 carries.
What is a realistic expectation for Chubb in 2020?
If we set Chubb’s carries to be around the 265 mark, then our model tells us that an average back will total 1135 rushing yards. However, we also know that Chubb is not an “average back,” with an average of five yards per carry, placing him seventh in the league and second among backs with more than 200 carries. If Chubb repeats that number in 2020, then 1325 yards is the projected outcome.
However, many projections have Chubb set for less than 250 carries, and if that is the situation we see in 2020, then it will be tough for him to reach 1250 rushing yards.
What does history tell us?
If we look back over the past decade at backs who had between 236 and 286 carries (10% either side of a projected 260 carries), then things look somewhat bleak for Chubb’s chances of topping 1250 rushing yards.
In total, 86 running backs have registered a season total of carries in that range. Just 17 of those (20%) have ended a season with more than 1250 rushing yards. The names above that 1250 number include the likes of Jamaal Charles, Kareem Hunt, Saquon Barkley, Marshawn Lynch, Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Le’Veon Bell. Chubb has undoubtedly demonstrated he has the talent to be talked about amongst those names, but the odds right now are not in his favor.
If we look closer at those 17 occurrences, just two of them came with a back registering less than 250 carries, Justin Forsett in 2014 and LeSean McCoy in 2016. Additionally, just a further three achieved the feat while logging under 260 carries.
The final verdict
It may seem an odd decision to pick against a back who had as much success as Chubb in 2019. However, the situation with Hunt is a concern that has to be factored in. Even if we simply assume Hunt would have taken 43 carries from Chubb in those first eight games, it would drop Chubb down to 255 carries on the season. If Hunt sees a higher percentage of carries due to more practice time, then things look incredibly bleak.
Another element to consider is the uncertainty of the 2020 season. With players potentially having to miss significant time at the facility, including the potential of multiple games, any questionable player props should always see the under considered as a play. Of course, this can work both ways, in terms of the absence of potential competition for touches, but the effect on a player like Chubb could be huge if he misses two games and 30-40 carries that those two games would see.
This recommendation comes in two tiers. If your sportsbook has Chubb projected over 1300 rushing yards, then this is a two-unit play. However, if the line they are offering is set in the 1250-1300 region, then I will look to play safer with a one-unit play. I am placing the wager at DraftKings, where the line is 1275.5, and therefore, I will be taking the under at -110 for one unit.
1u – Nick Chubb under 1275.5 rushing yards | -110