Much has been made of Kareem Hunt cutting into Nick Chubb’s workload in 2020 and limiting Chubb’s ceiling in the process. While the presence of two immensely
talented back may prevent either from contending for the overall RB1 spot, it is a real possibility that both still finish as top-12 running backs in 2020.
First, let’s recap what the average RB1 season looks like since 2015:
Can Chubb and Hunt combine for 600 touches and over 3,000 yards next season? Survey says, no. Instead, it will take both running backs seeing just enough touches and being fairly efficient with them.
How is this Possible?
So just how many touches do both Chubb and Hunt need to both return RB1 seasons? While the average RB1’s stats seem daunting, you have to consider that the data set includes all 60 running backs who have chalked up a top-12 season since 2015. That includes the McCaffreys and Bells of the world notching 400+ touches, Elliotts three seasons with over 350 touches, and more of the like. However, that data set also includes a number of examples of backs that didn’t even sniff 250 total touches, with a few accounting for less than 200!
Hunting for Receptions
The 14 running backs that achieved an RB1 fantasy season with fewer than 250 touches had a couple of commonalities: 1) catching the ball, and 2) making the most of their touches (fantasy points per touch). These players averaged 60 receptions and 1.24 points per touch, showing the value of receiving work in PPR leagues. Wouldn’t you know that in half of a season in Cleveland last season, Hunt was on pace for 74 catches on just 160 total touches (46%). As Hunt dominated receiving work out of the backfield, he saw his points per touch sit at 1.26. Of the six other backs that have achieved top-12 seasons on fewer than 200 total touches, they averaged 71 catches and saw 41% of their total touches come from catches. While being a pass-catching back wasn’t necessarily Hunt’s calling card his first two seasons in the league, the presence of another talented runner in Chubb saw him forced to develop those skills. Hunt is as good of a bet as any to be capable of producing an RB1 season with limited touches.
Chubb Carries the Load
Now we turn to Nick Chubb and his role in this running back duo scheme. Chubb finished last season as the RB8, but without question his production changed upon Hunt’s reinstatement from suspension. After averaging over 22 touches per game in Weeks 1-9, Chubb’s touches dropped to just over 19 from Week 10 on. However, the dip in touches for Chubb was almost exclusively in the passing game. His 18 rush attempts per game average with Hunt would have still amounted to 288 carries over a full season. With a 4.8 yards per carry average over that time frame, Chubb would still be looking at nearly 1400 rushing yards alone, not accounting for any receptions over an entire season.
Two RB1s, One Backfield
While Chubb seems like the safer bet to be capable of a top-12 season in 2020, Kareem Hunt may not be as far off as it seems. Extrapolating his reception numbers for a full season and fantasy points per touch may seem risky, but let’s not forget that the new coaching regime may provide the backs more opportunities overall. Last year, Cleveland running backs saw 449 touches. New head coach/play caller Kevin Stefanski led a Vikings attack in 2019 that gave their running backs 527 touches, and will probably be similar to what Cleveland implements in 2020.
While it may not be necessarily likely that both Cleveland running backs finish as top-12 fantasy options in 2020, it is possible. Chubb will continue to receive plenty of carries. If he sees his touchdown rate increase even slightly (only two rushing touchdowns in the final half of the season), a mid-low end RB1 season is well within reach. We have seen players like LeGarrette Blount (8 catches, RB9 finish), Jay Ajayi (27 catches, RB11) and Jordan Howard (29 catches, RB10) produce low-end RB1 seasons without catching many passes.
Assuming Hunt continues to be the primary pass catcher out of the backfield and maintains the 40/60 split from last season, he has a path to also return low-end RB1 numbers. Players like Duke Johnson (74 catches, 156 total touches, RB11 finish) and Tarik Cohen (71, 170, RB11) have shown us that as long as you are heavily involved in the passing game you do not need even 100 carries in a season to be valuable. And for the offense overall, any improvement in 2020 can propel both backs just enough to ensure top-12 is within range. From Weeks 10-17 last season, Chubb and Hunt were the RB15 and RB17 respectively, for an offense that were 22nd in the league in total yards and points scored. A more schematic-approach to play-calling over the disaster that was 2019, and the Browns may boast a two-headed monster out of the backfield that carries fantasy owners to victory.