Nick Chubb was not just a dominant rookie this past season, he was one of the best players, period. He was a bulldozer with 4.59 yards after contact per attempt; this is the highest that PFF has “ever charted” for a player with 100 plus attempts, since they started recording the statistic in 2006. At the same time, he complemented this power with explosive speed by running for a 92-yard touchdown; it was the longest touchdown run up to that point in the season and it is the longest run in Browns history. This is a extraordinary achievement because Hall of Famer Jim Brown played 9 seasons for the Browns, leading the NFL in rushing yards eight out of nine seasons and ending up as the only player in NFL history to average over 100 yards rushing per game for his career. Chubb only needed 97 carries to make history and accomplish something Jim Brown could not in 2,359 carries, nearly 25 times more carries.
Kareem Hunt’s rookie season was similarly a success as he led the league, not just rookies, in total rushing yards with 1,327; he also averaged more yards per carry than Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell. This demonstrates that Hunt did not win the rushing title due simply to volume, but instead due to his efficiency. Hunt was not a simply a stat-padder either as many like to call triple-double king Russell Westbrook, but Hunt’s workload was highly correlated with the Kansas City Chief’s wins and losses. Illustrating this, Hunt averaged 19.8 carries in wins, while in the “six games that Hunt had 11 or fewer carries, the Chiefs went 1-5”.
Arguments could be made for why each player deserves to be the top-ranked running back in the league. However, this offseason, Hunt was released by the Chiefs and signed by the Browns, meaning that Chubb and Hunt are now on the same team. What will this do to their production? Will one player get the lion’s share of the carries or will they split the workload evenly? Let’s reference other two-superstar backfields to see recognize a pattern to predict how Hunt and Chubb’s carries will be distributed.
Almost all of the great running back duos of the past and present were/are successful because of the useful thunder-and-lightning approach: Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Having two running backs with different skill sets challenges defenses to constantly make adjustments. If the running backs were both the thunder (the power back) or both the lightning (the speedy change-of-pace back), the need for two of the same player would not be that high (assuming one of the running backs had a decent level of stamina and did not get injured).
Chubb naturally fills the role of thunder, as receptions only account for 13% of his touches. Since he is in the 96th percentile of active running backs in the bench press, his ground-and-pound abilities are all that he needs to be successful.
Hunt, however, is a one-man thunder and lighting. In fact, he was the “first player since 1961 to have at least seven rushing touchdowns and seven receiving touchdowns in his team’s first 11 games”.
I believe Hunt and Chubb’s situation in Cleveland will most resemble the Kamara and Ingram double-threat which helped make the New Orleans Saints such a dangerous offense over the past two seasons. 30% of Kamara’s touches are receptions, while only 13% of Ingram’s touches are receptions. This is already very similar to the percentages Hunt (25%) and Chubb (13%) have now. All that would need to change for the statistics to be identical is that Hunt would have to increase his percentage of receptions to carries from 25% to 30%. I think this is likely going to happen, as the Browns coaches will try to protect Hunt from the grueling tackles between the hash marks, knowing they have Chubb for these ground-and-pound type plays.
No matter what the coaches decide to do, however, the Browns backfield will certainly be scary in 2019 (and beyond). To me, this is less of a question of whether they will be a good as Kamara and Ingram were while using their thunder-and-lightning strategy, and more of a question of how much better they will execute. This Hunt and Chubb duo has the potential to become the best in NFL history.