When Cleveland traded for Deshaun Watson, it got some in the fantasy football community seeing the grandiose potential for the Browns’ offense (after any pending suspension), and what the running game might look like by the season’s start:
No doubt having Watson dawning orange and brown sends Cleveland’s fantasy outlook to new heights, but how exactly should we view Nick Chubb in 2022?
With arguably Derrick Henry as the only other back in the league in the conversation of best pure runner, football fans, whether they play fantasy or not, have salivated over the idea of Nick fully unleashed.
But that version has never really seen its full potential. However, with Watson at the helm, Chubb gets the best QB he’s played with, and Deshaun gets the best RB he’s played with.
So Chubb doesn’t need a full bell-cow workload to have the best fantasy season of his career, and outdo his performance as the RB5-per-game in half-PPR in 2020 (out of players who played at least four games).
Whether defenses dare this Browns offense to beat them with the pass, or the run, they’re set up to lose.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski admitted that “If your roster evolves, you better be ready to evolve,” at the NFL combine and further reiterated that concept when talking about Deshaun’s arrival:
“If you watch a bunch of what Deshaun has done in his past, there are similarities to what Houston was doing to what we were doing; there are some differences. That is our job that we are working hard of understanding where we want to move to. Yeah, I do think you will see differences.”
One important reason why Kevin Stefanski’s offensive scheme and its evolution are so polarizing is that it’s been criticized by both fans and players.
Even safety John Johnson gave his two cents when Chubb was running all over the Green Bay Packers, while Baker Mayfield‘s number was still being called after interception after interception, four total, in a 24-22 loss. And the criticism against Stefanski certainly wasn’t new before that game.
This gives legitimate concern to how well Kevin’s scheme will adapt on gamedays, despite the fact that Watson’s choice of waiving his no-trade clause to come to Cleveland undeniably shows confidence in the Browns’ coaching staff.
Currently, the Browns still have Kareem Hunt. They also tendered D’Ernest Johnson at $2.433 million, requiring other teams to pay more if they wish to sign the restricted free agent, an amount the Browns could still match in order to keep Johnson’s services.
A team like the Browns, who were sixth in run play percentage last year, have reason to prioritize the position. Chubb, Hunt, and Johnson were all effective last year.
But what speculation that Johnson’s tender could mean that Hunt’s on the way out, saving over $6 million in cap space? Might we then see Nick Chubb in a bell-cow role?
Might he take over the passing down and change-of-pace duties that Hunt occupied?
It’s reasonable to assume Chubb’s role could grow substantially until we find that in 2021, the back that came in as the closer when the Browns had the lead late in a game when you want your best running back on the field to get chunk yards and move the chains and run out the clock was…
As pointed out in PFF’s Utilization Report, during the first five weeks, the time when Chubb and Hunt were both active, Hunt’s role showed “more resiliency” than Chubb’s, who was “as one-dimensional as any back in the NFL.”
Despite being out-snapped by Chubb in snap percentage 52-to-45, Hunt outscored Nick 17-to-15.9 per-game in half-PPR, putting Hunt as the RB5, Chubb the RB8.
It shouldn’t be ignored that that could’ve been the story for the year if Hunt had stayed healthy. And that for 2022, we shouldn’t be surprised if the Browns keep Chubb’s opportunities capped, whether that be with Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, or another free agent or late-round draft pick that could turn into a diamond in the rough like D’Ernest.
D’Ernest himself may have earned more than the 33.8-percent snap share he got in weeks where he and Nick played the entire game while Kareem Hunt was out.
With Watson, the Browns’ entire offense, let alone the run game, could be fire. But from a fantasy perspective, we’ve seen this movie before.
No matter what other RBs are on Cleveland’s roster, viewing Nick Chubb as more than a low-end RB1 right now still isn’t a sure thing.
Keep the cons in mind as this offseason continues, to avoid being hurt by elite runner who’s had his potential capped by playcalling and competition for touches.
And, keep up with The Wolf’s 2022 Fantasy Rankings and Big Board as he looks to attribute order to the offseason chaos, and puts faith that stars can align for Nick Chubb this season, currently ranking him as his RB5.