Coming into this 2020 fantasy football season, one of the more hotly-contested questions was how to figure out the value of Nick Chubb. On the one hand, he is one of the best running backs in the NFL without question. However, he is also dealing with competition for touches on his own team. His value has now lowered to the point where it’s fair to wonder if he’s being under-drafted. We’ll examine what that looks like and if he is actually becoming a value pick in fantasy football.
Nick Chubb’s 2019 season with and without Kareem Hunt
Prior to the 2019 season, the Cleveland Browns signed running back Kareem Hunt to a one-year contract after his release from the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt came with a strong resume of on-field performance in his young career. In his rookie season (2017), Hunt ran for 1,327 rushing yards, had 455 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. He played so well that he led the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie and looked well on his way to being a franchise cornerstone for the Chiefs.
After getting off to another strong start in the 2018 season (824 yards rushing, 378 receiving, 14 total touchdowns in 11 games), Hunt would be released from the Chiefs and suspended indefinitely by the NFL due to off-the-field conduct. After sitting out the rest of the 2018 season, the Browns signed him the following offseason, and Hunt was handed down an eight-game suspension to begin the 2019 season. Following his half-season suspension, Hunt played a sizable role in the Browns offense as he accumulated 464 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage on 80 offensive touches.
How did this affect Nick Chubb?
Chubb came into his second year with a lot of hype surrounding him following a terrific 2018 rookie season. Following Carlos Hyde’s trade to the Jacksonville Jaguars during the middle of the 2018 season, Chubb took over as the unquestioned lead running back for them. Once Hyde was traded (right before Week 7 started), Chubb had at least 75 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns over the last ten games of the season. He would end up finishing as the eighth highest-scoring RB from Weeks 7 to 17 in half point-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
Over the first half of the 2019 season, Chubb would actually improve upon his 2018 performance. He had at least 85 scrimmage yards in each of the first eight games and had six rushing touchdowns during that time as well. He ranked as the fifth highest-scoring RB in half-PPR leagues from Weeks 1 to 9. Once Hunt’s suspension was over, however, and he was active, Chubb did see a drop in touches and production.
Over the first half of the season, Chubb averaged 22.38 offensive touches per game and 120.5 yards from scrimmage. Over the second half of the season, Chubb averaged 19.38 offensive touches per game and 101 yards from scrimmage. He also only scored two touchdowns over the last nine weeks of the season as well.
So on average, Chubb saw three fewer offensive touches per week and averaged 19.5 fewer scrimmage yards per week once Hunt came back from suspension. Despite that, Chubb still had a commanding lead of red-zone touches with 26 over the last eight games of the season to Hunt’s six. On top of that, Chubb managed to stay consistent and be a reliable running back for fantasy football owners.
According to PFN’s own Consistency Score, Chubb had the sixth-highest score (6.71) amongst running backs in 2019. In regards to PFN’s Expected Fantasy Points metric, Chubb performed just as he was predicted to. He had the eighth-highest expected fantasy points total in PPR leagues (255.8) and finished with 255.2 in 2019.
Chubb still managed to be among league leaders in almost every rushing category. His 298 carries were third-most, 1,494 rushing yards were second-most, his eight rushing touchdowns were tied for ninth-most, and his 5.0 yards per rushing attempt were seventh-best. So even despite Hunt cutting in a little to Chubb’s weekly workload, Chubb still managed to produce as one of the top running backs in 2019.
Is Hunt’s presence overblown?
There is no doubting Hunt’s ability as a running back after seeing what he accomplished in 2017 and 2018, but Chubb is just as talented of an RB, if not more. Hunt did make a bigger impact in the receiving game with 44 targets and 37 receptions in his eight games last season, but besides receiving touchdowns, Chubb improved in every receiving statistic in 2019. He averaged 7.7 yards per reception (7.5 in 2018), 2.3 receptions per game (1.3), 17.4 receiving yards per game (9.3), 73.5% catch percentage (69.0%), and 5.7 yards per target (5.1).
Chubb’s fantasy production is more tied to his running ability versus his opportunities in the passing game. Of his 237.2 (half-PPR) fantasy points in 2019, 197.4 of them came from rushing yards and touchdowns, which is 83.22% of his total fantasy points. Hunt only saw more than five carries in four of his eight games, and he had zero games with double-digit carries.
Of Hunt’s 82.9 (half-PPR) fantasy points, 29.9 came from rushing yards and touchdowns, which is 36.46% of his total fantasy points. So only 16.78% of Chubb’s fantasy points last year came from receiving yards and touchdowns. Hunt had 63.54% of his come from receiving stats.
The Browns made several improvements to their team in the offseason
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Browns offense was their offensive line. They had one of the worst starting offensive tackle combos in all of football with Greg Robinson and Chris Hubbard. Cleveland made major improvements at both spots by signing former All-Pro Jack Conklin in free agency and drafting rookie Jedrick Wills with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Both players represent major upgrades and are expected to make immediate impacts towards a better-looking Browns’ offensive line that already included Joel Bitonio and J.C. Tretter. Plus, Conklin knows a thing or two about run-blocking as he was the starting right tackle for the Tennessee Titans, home of the reigning rushing yards leader in Derrick Henry.
Cleveland also went out and made another splash in free agency by signing tight end Austin Hooper to a long-term deal. Hooper is coming off two straight seasons of 70 or more receptions and 650 receiving yards, strong numbers from the tight end position. Hooper’s presence will help the Browns’ offense as a whole as yet another skill player that defenses will need to keep an eye on in the passing game. Hooper, alongside Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, makes up a very dangerous trio of pass-catchers that will have opposing defenses keying in on them and taking some defenders out of the box for Chubb in the run game.
Not to be forgotten, the Browns signed former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski to be their new head coach. Stefanski is coming off a 2019 season where he helped Dalvin Cook break out to be the fifth-highest scoring RB in fantasy football despite only playing in 14 games. Cook was extremely productive as the lead back for the Vikings as he was number two in fantasy points from Weeks 1 through 10 before injuries caused Cook to slow down over the remainder of the season.
Cook had at least 20 offensive touches in nine of his first ten games with five of them having 25 or more touches. He also only had two games over that span where he finished with less than 100 yards from scrimmage and scored at least one touchdown in eight of them. Stefanski saw a lot of production in the run game in 2019 as the Vikings had the fourth-most rushing attempts (476, 29.75 per game), sixth-most rushing yards per game (133.3), and sixth-most rushing touchdowns (19). So Stefanski has experience not only building a strong rushing offense but being able to lead his starting running back to fantasy football prominence.
So is Chubb being undervalued in 2020 fantasy football drafts?
Currently, Chubb is being drafted eighth amongst running backs on average in 2020 half-PPR. That is right in front of Josh Jacobs and right behind Joe Mixon. Amongst all players, Chubb is being drafted 12th on average, so right on the edge of the first-round in 12-team leagues. Even though that may seem like a good spot to be drafted in, it appears to still be too low for Chubb.
He has shown from the second-half of 2018 and all of 2019 that he has the potential to be a top-five RB in fantasy football. Chubb is one of the most productive rushers and comes into 2020 with his arrow pointing straight up. Between the major improvements to the offensive line and helping Chubb with converting goal-line carries, and the expected improving play-calling/running game focus from Stefanski, he is absolutely in a spot to out-perform his draft slot even with Hunt looming.
The Browns defense is expected to be league-average at best and will need to rely on the offense to keep it in the game. Plus, with the lack of depth of viable pass-catchers behind Landry, Beckham, Hooper, and Hunt, Chubb could absolutely see more targets in the passing game. He showed to be efficient in the receiving game when targeted and quarterback Baker Mayfield is due for an improved 2020 season after a lack-luster 2019 performance.
Chubb is one of the rare running backs that not only has one of the safest floors in fantasy, but he also has one of the highest ceilings as well. In addition, he hasn’t missed a single game in his two seasons at the professional level.
He is being drafted behind potential contract holdouts Cook (RB6) and Alvin Kamara (RB4). With the fantasy season right around the corner and uncertainty surrounding these two, it presents another risk on top of injury concerns (Cook and Kamara both missed two games in 2019 plus spent plenty of time on injury reports). Both players have produced at their ceilings already, while Chubb has room to grow as a pass-catcher even with Hunt in the midst. It elevates his potential even more than it already was.
Despite what many others may say, Chubb has all of the factors working in his favor, and he projects as a top-five running back in 2020. Don’t make the mistake of obtaining this type of value in 2020.