Is Kareem Hunt Standing in the Way of an Elite Fantasy Football Season for Nick Chubb?

Few things bring me joy quite like an uncrowded fantasy football backfield.

The majesty of an 80-plus-percent snap rate and a firm grasp on goal-line work is what can make certain running backs fantasy football game-breakers.

But not every backfield works that way -- far from it.

One that doesn't is the Cleveland Browns'. No, they have two featured backs: Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

Last season, Chubb finished as the RB9 in half-PPR scoring formats last year despite 12 regular season games.

Hunt? He was the RB10.

What's realistic to expect from Nick Chubb in 2021?

Nick Chubb's Simple-Yet-Complex 2020 Season

Chubb's RB9 season came from a stat line of 190 rushes, 1,067 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 18 targets, 16 catches, and 150 receiving yards.

That's 12 total touchdowns in 12 games. Or -- and sorry to get mathematical on you -- 1.0 touchdowns per game.

Only 63 individual running back seasons since 2000 -- among those with at least 10 games -- held such a scoring rate. That's 3.0 per season.

Simple. Lots of carries when healthy, and lots of touchdowns, too.

In the regular season, Chubb scored once for every 101.4 scrimmage yards (the position average last year was 138.7).

Among 22 backs with at least 200 opportunities (carries plus targets), that rate ranked Chubb fourth behind only Alvin Kamara (80.4), Todd Gurley (93.6), and Antonio Gibson (94.7).

Now, yeah, Chubb's red zone role could easily be key here in helping to explain such a good yards-per-touchdown rate, yet in his healthy games, he handled only 42.2% of the team's red zone carries, including the playoffs.

That's's not that great. It's not bad or anything, but it's not elite.

Among all backs with at least eight games played, that red zone rushing share ranked him 26th. The raw volume was better (14th at 2.7 per game), but he handled one fewer red zone carry than Kareem Hunt did last year in games they both played.

In fact, Chubb received just one of 10 team red zone carries in their two playoff games.



We did see Chubb's receiving role spike down the stretch, and that has been one of his biggest drawbacks in fantasy football, especially since the team added Hunt.

Chubb had six targets in his final two regular season games and nine targets across two playoff games.

Check out this final four-game sample between Chubb and Hunt.

Averages in Browns' Final
Four Games in 2020
Nick Chubb14.01.831.8%3.89.9%
Kareem Hunt7.02.545.5%2.05.3%

The better workload belonged to Chubb overall (17.8 opportunities per game), but Hunt had more of a role in the red zone late than did Chubb.

Prior to this, the red zone rushing shares had been virtually identical at around 46.0%, and it was Hunt with a 10.7% target share and Chubb with a 4.0% target share.

So this was a pretty clear reversal in usage in the closing portion of the season. Sure, Chubb's red zone role weakened, but he added value as a receiver, so it somewhat balances out.

But is Chubb a lock to see a ton of targets again?

The answer gets a little complex.

Chubb's target share went up in this cherry-picked, make-Chubb's-receiving-role-look-great sample, but his route rate climbed only barely.

Chubb had run a route on 37.3% of drop backs in his healthy games before this torrid four-game stretch, and during the final four, he posted a 40.6% route rate. That's not as promising as the target data would have implied, so perhaps the receiving workload isn't going to expand drastically.

So what does it all mean?

The Bottom Line: Nick Chubb's 2021 Fantasy Football Projection

Initially assuming I'd find some damning evidence of touchdown regression, Chubb's possible (far from guaranteed) receiving workload boost helps overcome it.

And with such a secure rushing share, Chubb maintains a high floor projection.

I'm not at all willing to talk ill about Chubb's ability; that's not what this is about. it's just about his overall fantasy production.

He's an elite rushing talent, and he has posted the highest rushing yards over expectation per carry rate (1.25) among all backs with at least 250 carries since 2016, according to NextGenStats. (Only Derrick Henry [1.09] is also above 1.00, for more context.)

I'm just not sure a top-five season is likely for the elite rusher, given all the high-leverage competition within his own backfield.

Chubb's average draft position ranks him as the 13th overall pick in NFC drafts since the start of August and as the RB10.

numberFire's projections put him right on that path. He's the RB10 in the site's half-PPR projections with an anticipated stat line of 310 carries, 1,497 yards, 13.0 rushing touchdowns, and 28 catches for 214 yards and 1.5 receiving scores.

A 10 half-PPR-point over-performance would put him as the RB7, and a drop of 10 points would make him the RB14, so he's within a tight range of RB1/RB2 candidates.

Ultimately, though, reaching overall RB1 status seems elusive for Chubb in 2021.