Who or what is the next big thing on the gridiron? In Around The NFL's "Making the Leap" series, Gregg Rosenthal spotlights emerging units or players to keep an eye on during the 2019 NFL season.
1) The scouting report on Chubb was all wrong. Chubb was supposed to be a grinder. The pre-draft chatter on the Georgia product stated that he'd get 4 yards if 4 yards were blocked for him. But the combination of his vaunted power and ability to make people miss allowed him to lead all running backs in Pro Football Focus' "elusiveness" rating in 2018. Free defenders struggled to take him down in the open field and his sharp cuts created space to run. The Browns' run-blocking last season was decidedly average, so Chubb's success was independent of that.
2) His lateral hops are nice. The misevaluation regarding Chubb starts with his quickness. So many times while reviewing the overhead angle on Coaches Film via NFL Game Pass, Chubb stopped on a dime behind the line of scrimmage, diagnosed the play, and quickly hopped a few feet to his right or left before running to daylight. The movement reminded me of a young Frank Gore.
3-4) He's a big-play threat. Despite getting only 192 carries as a rookie, Chubb tied for the second-most runs over 20 yards (11), finishing behind only Saquon Barkley. He also finished second to Barkley in runs over 40 yards. When Chubb makes up his mind to hit the hole, he does it with authority. He's not the station-to-station back he was advertised to be.
5) Defenders take bad angles on him. It's as if defenders read the pre-draft scouting report on Chubb or can't quite believe he's as fast as he is. Chubb ran a respectable 4.52-second 40-yard dash at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, but when he starts galloping in the open field, he looks like a home-run hitter and the stats back it up.
6) He's further ahead in the passing game than you think. Chubb wasn't asked to catch the ball at Georgia. He had more catches as an NFL rookie (20) than he did in his final three years at Georgia combined (13) and has shown noticeable progress catching the ball this offseason, with an eye on becoming a true three-down back. While his pass blocking could use work, Chubb looked natural catching passes out of the backfield as a rookie.
7-8) Defenders just bounce off of him. Chubb runs with a different level of horsepower. Grown professionals bounce off of him, often unprepared to make the perfect form tackle that it will take to get Chubb to the ground. Famous in college for his 600-pound squats, Chubb generates so much strength from the lower body of his 227-pound frame that any linebackers or safeties who try to tackle him high finish on the ground as Chubb chugs by. He ran over Houston's Justin Reid and Carolina's Eric Reid in back-to-back weeks last December, completing rare ownership of one of the NFL's best brotherhoods.
9) His yards after contact are insane. Chubb gained 4.47 yards after contact per carry last year, according to PFF, an outrageous figure that led the league for runners with at least 50 carries. The number highlights how much of Chubb's production as a rookie was self-generated by dodging and running through the first defender to greet him.
10) He has a head start on Kareem Hunt. As mentioned above, Chubb finished first in PFF's elusiveness rating last year. In third place was Hunt, who was cut by the Chiefs in November after the release of a video that showed Hunt shoving and kicking a woman. Former Chiefs general manager John Dorsey, now in Cleveland, signed Hunt in the offseason before the NFL suspended him for the first eight games of the 2019 campaign. By the time Hunt is ready to play, Chubb could be approaching 1,000 yards from scrimmage and it might be difficult to take him off the field. Then again, Chubb's embrace of the situation is a point in his favor ...
11-12) He's not going to ruffle feathers. Chubb would be within his rights to be annoyed by the signing of Hunt. Instead, the two young men have reportedly become very good friends. Chubb lauded how he enjoys having Hunt as a teammate and how fun it will be to play with him. He's the leader of the running back room. Chubb is showing Hunt the way, not the other way around. It seems like every article on Chubb mentions how quiet yet forceful he is, part of an approach that figures to play well in Cleveland.
13) He's old school. Chubb's big helmet and lack of appreciation for wearing gloves had his teammates calling him "Old School" as a rookie. His preparation to pick up the playbook quickly also showed a maturity beyond his years. As he processes all the lessons from his rookie season, he should only play faster.
14-15) He's already done it. The biggest argument against Chubb fitting in our "Making the Leap" series is that he already did it. After Chubb took over as the Browns' starter in Week 7, he was fifth among running backs in yards from scrimmage for the rest of the season with 972 yards in 10 games, topped only by Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley and Joe Mixon. PFF ranked him the second-best runner for the entire season in their grading system. That type of grade indicates there's no leap left to make except volume. If it wasn't for former Browns coach Hue Jackson poorly evaluating Carlos Hyde as a better option early last season, Chubb would be getting the appropriate level of hype heading into this season. All he really needs is more snaps.
16) He's fresh. Chubb looks like a workhorse back, but he shared the workload with Sony Michel at Georgia and his carries went down in Cleveland with only 192 (he averaged 222 in his three healthy seasons with the Bulldogs). He should be ready for more.
17) He doesn't fumble. Part of Chubb's allure is the lack of mistakes he makes. Rarely do you see him make a mental error, including his excellent ball-security skills. Only three running backs had more touches last season without fumbling.
18) He takes what's available. Cleveland's tackles couldn't run block last season. Virtually any time the Browns called a run off tackle, they allowed penetration. Chubb did a fantastic job in those situations seeing the edge collapse, sticking his foot in the ground and cutting upfield to save the play by gaining a yard or 2. Where most young runners would have taken negative yardage in a fruitless effort to get to the edge, Chubb showed an uncanny ability to make the best out of a bad situation.
19-20) He's textbook. Coaches love Chubb because he makes the right cut. He hits the right hole according to the play design and sees the entire field well when he needs to rely on instincts. Chubb's vision and patience were key to so many of his longer runs. He follows blockers, waits and waits for an opening to emerge and then knows how to navigate the second level. This showed up especially in games where the rest of the Browns' offense was overwhelmed.
Watch Chubb in the Week 13 contest against the Texans' defense, which ranked first in Football Outsiders' run defense efficiency. On a day where the Browns could barely move the ball in the first half, Chubb finished with 72 yards on 12 touches. I couldn't find a play where his coaches would grade him negatively, and there were plenty of times when he created yards despite terrible blocking. If the rest of the team played like Chubb that day, they wouldn't have been blown out.
21) Chubb clowns legends. On a single play against the Panthers in Week 14, Chubb forced Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis to completely whiff on tackles. Anyone who can make two greats look that bad on the same play deserves notice. There's a reason why Chubb's quarterback, Baker Mayfield, calls him "phenomenally talented." Speaking of which ...
22) Chubb will be surrounded by stars. I waited this long to mention the ridiculous assortment of talent on the Browns' offense because so much has been written about it this summer. Baker Mayfield, like Chubb, is set to make major strides in Year 2. Defenses will have to assign two defenders to Odell Beckham Jr., while trying to handle Jarvis Landry and David Njoku in the passing game. In short: Teams won't be loading up the tackle box to stop the running game, especially when Kitchens spreads out the opposition. Chubb showed as a rookie he can create yards on his own, but he won't have to as much in 2019, especially near the goal line.
23) He's going to score a lot. Even in a world where Kareem Hunt -- after serving his suspension -- plays a large role and fifth-year back Duke Johnson continues to steal passing-down work (assuming his trade request isn't met), Chubb will be the man in the red zone. The Browns were a below-average scoring team in 2018, and it will be a huge disappointment if they rank outside the top 10 this year. Chubb is a solid underdog pick to lead the league in touchdowns, which brings me to my final comp of the day:
24) Chubb reminds me of Emmitt Smith. Any good running back could rack up big numbers on this Browns offense. A potentially great one could approach 2,000 yards. Emmitt was a great player in a great situation, the type of runner who rarely made mental mistakes, who had great vision, who gained extra yards by leaning on folks, yet had surprising lateral quickness to make defenders miss in the hole.
I'm not saying Chubb will have Smith's career, but Chubb could go from an impressive, underestimated supporting player as a rookie like Smith to the guy everyone is writing about because his numbers demand attention. Smith jumped from 1,165 yards from scrimmage as a rookie to 1,821 as a second-year player, the type of jump that is within Chubb's grasp. Give Chubb the ball and good things happen.