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Nick Chubb

Value in back coming off injury?

There's a Nick Chubb update circulating this week. The Cleveland star tore multiple knee ligaments last September and underwent multiple surgeries. It's fair to say he's not being drafted as a starter; no one expects him to play early in the season. But let's play devil's advocate for a minute.

The Browns didn't behave in the offseason like a team that thinks it won't have its franchise back for a huge chunk of the season. They let Kareem Hunt go, and signed D'Onta Foreman for close to the veteran's minimum, with minimal guarantees. They have Jerome Ford, but he was pretty modest a year ago, averaging 4.0 yards per carry and not getting much work in goal-line situations and not being great in the passing game (44 receptions, but a disturbing 9 drops). Pierre Strong didn't get much run a year ago. Nyheim Hines is also making small money and might have been signed more for returns than an offensive role.

Even setting aside all that, Chubb is impressing those close to the team in his recovery thus far. Beat reporter Mary Kay Cabot says "Chubb’s new offseason running back trainer did tell me he’s never seen someone recover so quickly from a torn ACL. He noted that it’s possible Chubb could be ready for the opener Sept. 8 against the Cowboys."

Cabot goes on to say, "We all know Chubb wants to be in uniform for the opener to set the tone for the season, but it’s more important to have him healthy for the playoff run at the end. I could see the Browns possibly making him active Week 1 in part for the emotional lift, but perhaps not playing him much or at all. A lot will depend on what he’s able to do in training camp and the preseason, but never bet against Chubb, who’s superhuman."

In short, while Week 1 seems pretty unlikely, the prospect of Chubb at least avoiding the PUP list to start the season looks more reasonable. Considering how late Chubb is being selected (in our experts draft in the magazine, he was taken in Round 8), there's a potential value.

Certainly, he'll be operating in a running back-friendly offense once he's back on the field. Even last year, with Chubb missing all but two games and the team not running the ball effectively, the Browns patiently stuck with it. The team's running backs -- this is running backs only, not counting quarterback runs or wide receivers -- combined to carry the ball 430 times last year. That was more than all but two teams, even though they averaged a collective 3.92 yards per attempt (worse than all but 10 teams).

RUNNING BACK RUSHING, 2023
TeamAttYdsAvgTD
Atlanta45018404.098
Detroit44921574.8024
Cleveland43016853.9214
Indianapolis41618074.3412
LA Rams41417524.2317
Pittsburgh40418194.5012
Miami39821835.4827
San Francisco39819734.9619
Tennessee38316314.2614
Buffalo38116884.437
Carolina38113803.626
Houston37913753.637
Dallas37014253.859
Green Bay36814974.074
Baltimore36416964.6620
Chicago36015194.229
Tampa Bay36012313.426
Jacksonville35812483.4913
Las Vegas35613763.878
New England35613263.728
Denver35314314.055
New Orleans35012383.549
Philadelphia34415324.457
Arizona33916154.769
Seattle33714034.169
NY Giants33011833.587
LA Chargers32711353.477
Minnesota32613194.054
NY Jets32213204.106
Kansas City31812954.079
Cincinnati31812944.079
Washington29812694.268

Let me clear: I'm not expecting Chubb to be usable in Week 1, even assuming he avoids the PUP list. They'll bring him back slowly, and it should be more of a committee the first few games, at least.

But the season is over 2 months away, and all reports on Chubb are positive. He's definitely their best back, and whether he's getting a dozen carries early on or not, I think we can say with some confidence that if the ball is inside the 5-yard-line in those games, Chubb will be the back of choice. Other backs being selected in the Chubb area include Devin Singletary and Brian Robinson. Of those three, Chubb seems most likely to be leading a playoff charge the second half of the season, even if he's dramatically outperformed in September.

In general, I won't be selecting Chubb early or anything. I tend to be cautious with injuries, and optimistic talk in July. But he's off my Do Not Draft list, and I'm also steering clear of Ford and Foreman. Chubb might reasonably be this team's best running back sooner than many are expecting. Needs to be monitored in August.

--Andy Richardson

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