In some ways, Cleveland Browns RB Nick Chubb has already landed in the record books. In yesterday’s win over the Atlanta Falcons, Chubb logged the longest run in team history (92 yards). The play in question cracked open a tight game in a pivotal window, as the Browns were standing in the shadow of their own goalposts.
Reminiscent of so many big plays that Chubb created at the University of Georgia, Chubb’s decisive cut off the hip of right tackle Chris Hubbard set up momentum into the second level. From there, only safety Damontae Kazee had a realistic chance of wrangling Chubb to the ground.
But that open field opportunity illustrates what made Chubb so challenging as a player to defend. When Chubb is in the open space, he’s got just enough mobility to force defenders to stay patient. And he’s got all the power in the world to put you on Twitter as a meme if he runs you over.
Chubb, paired with fellow rookie Baker Mayfield, have the Browns franchise buzzing for the first time in over a decade that this time might finally be different. I think it will be.
But before illusions of grandeur cloud the heads of Cleveland, there’s some unfinished business to attend to: becoming the greatest rookie backfield in the history of the league.
Washington – 2012
The most productive all rookie backfield in NFL history? The 2012 Washington Redskins. They are the only team to boast a rookie 3000 yard passer (Robert Griffin III) and a 1000 yard rusher (Alfred Morris).
Chubb and Mayfield won’t catch their numbers, but then again Griffin and Morris combined to start 32 games (16 each) that season. Chubb and Mayfield have currently started a combined 10 of possible 20 starts to this point in the season (7 for Mayfield, 3 for Chubb).
To meet the 3000/1000 mark, Mayfield will need to average 169.3 passing yards per game over the team’s final six games and Chubb will need to average 70.2 rushing yards per game.
Mayfield currently averages 248 yards per game, while Chubb is averaging 101.5 yards in his last four games since the team shipped off Carlos Hyde.
Becoming the second offensive backfield in NFL history to feature a 3,000 yard rookie passer and a 1,000 yard rookie rusher would be a wonderful start to the reimagined future of the Cleveland Browns.
It’s within sight and it’s perfectly reasonable to think they’ll get there. Should we have seen this coming?
Well…it depends on who you ask. A look back at each player’s 2018 NFL Draft report can help.
Baker Mayfield – 1st overall
Observing the first eight games of Baker Mayfield’s rookie season, many of the qualities that he illustrated at Oklahoma have manifested themselves on the field. That is, of course, for better and for worse. Ball security has been something of a bug-a-boo: Mayfield has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles (5 total fumbles). Those nine turnovers in seven starts are too high when Cleveland is going to be ready to compete for the postseason.
But, the turnovers are a byproduct of a fearless pocket passer who has the foot quickness to reset himself after escaping the rush. Gunslingers across the history of the league have always battled the turnover bug. In a perfect world, Mayfield’s development will take him from gunslinger to surgeon, where his accuracy can dissect opposing defenses in a safer manner.
Mayfield has been as advertised by his supporters during the pre-draft process. His personality, from the very first day he stepped onto the scene, has bubbled to the forefront of the league’s coverage of the team. Mayfield is a loud, confident, marketable personality who walks the walk. And the misplaced attempt of assassinating his character aside, his teammates love him.
Imagine what Mayfield’s game will look like when the Browns aren’t dropping nearly 10% of his passes and when the offensive line isn’t conceding 35 sacks in 10 games.
Traditionalists can pine that Mayfield wasn’t tall enough. What matters is that he was good enough. We’ve seen in the dawn of Mayfield’s career that he, in fact, is. The bravado and leadership intangibles will be the beacon that steers this franchise out of the abyss.
Of course, Nick Chubb’s redemption tour after a devastating knee injury in college will help, too.
Nick Chubb – 35th overall
Before there was Saquon Barkley, there was Nick Chubb. Chubb certainly isn’t the first prodigy running back in football. He won’t be the last. But the three year path he’s taken to reclaim his status as a potential franchise back is inspiring, without a doubt.
Chubb rushed for 1547 yards as a freshman in 2014 before exploding to a potential Heisman Trophy in 2015. And then the Tennessee game happened. Chubb’s left knee buckled and then folded backwards after an awkward hit on the sideline.
His season was over. Some speculated his career was over. But, miraculously Chubb returned to open the 2016 season and he rushed for over 100 yards against North Carolina in Week 1. Chubb, splitting time with Sony Michel, went on to log 1130 rushing yards that season.
But he wasn’t the same. He looked stiff. Awkward. Not explosive. His patience shined, but he physically wasn’t right.
And then came 2017, in which Chubb’s burst looked to bounce back 18 months removed from the injury. Michel had caught the eye of Draft pundits (and the Patriots) and was drafted first. But if you knew who Nick Chubb was before his injury? If you saw the progression from year one to year two after the incident, his explosive rookie campaign is hardly a surprise.
Chubb can grind out the tough yard. He’s put defenders in a bind (like Damontae Kazee yesterday) with his size and quickness.
Chubb is absolutely a cornerstone of this offense for the foreseeable future. And the Browns’ ability to run the ball in all different kinds of concepts (gap/power runs, inside zone runs, etc) with Chubb will keep defenses focused on their keys. And the more Cleveland can make teams think, the more these two shining beacons of hope can tear defenses apart.
These are not your same old Cleveland Browns.