Cleveland Browns' Nick Chubb Will Be the NFL's Most Unstoppable Force in 2020

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 26, 2020

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 08: Running back Nick Chubb #24 of the Cleveland Browns runs for a gain during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Bengals 27-19.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Nick Chubb is on the verge of becoming the NFL's best running back and the Cleveland Browns' most unstoppable ball-carrier since Jim Brown. 

Some may be taken aback by the previous statement. After all, Derrick Henry laid claim to the status of league's best back by rushing for 1,540 yards last year, and Brown is still considered by some to be the best player in NFL history. 

Chubb nearly took the rushing crown a year ago, but Cleveland's previous coaching staff didn't display the same level of commitment to the team's best player as the Tennessee Titans didwhich is part of the reason those coaches were fired after only one season. 

Chubb had fewer than 20 carries in each of Cleveland's final five games, and the Browns limped to a 1-4 finish as a result. 

Meanwhile, Henry built on a dominant second half with 377 rushing yards against the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in the postseason. 

The Titans' blueprint for success isn't complicated: Commitment to the running game is necessary to capitalize on a special backfield talent.

Cleveland lacked this commitment a year ago. Previous head coach Freddie Kitchens often went through long stretches without utilizing his most effective weapon, and the offense never found its rhythm.

Chubb now sits on the precipice of something special because the Browns have set the table perfectly to launch him into superstardom. 

Heavy expectations have been heaped upon the Cleveland Browns before only to see the team disappoint. So setting big expectations for an individual performer who plays for the league's greatest tease seems somewhat counterintuitive. 

Before going any further, an understanding of how good Chubb has been so far must be taken into consideration. 

The earlier mention of Brown wasn't meant to build unrealistic expectations. Instead, the comparison frames how effective the 2018 second-round pick has been to start his career. 

Jim Brown and Nick Chubb's First Two Seasons
PlayerCarriesYardsYPCTotal TDsScrimmage Yards
Pro Football Reference

Today's game and the overall offensive approach is very different, of course.

At the same time, some historical context is necessary to understand Chubb's initial effectiveness. His 2019 rushing total ranks fourth all-time in Browns history. Brown holds the franchise's other six highest single-season rushing efforts. 

None of this is to say Chubb is the next Brown. That type of statement goes too far. However, the possibility of Chubb taking over a few more of those top seasonal efforts is certainly possible as he enters a situation that is far more conducive to elite production and suitable to his overall skill set. 

Again, a look back is necessary to further explore Chubb's exciting upside. The 227-pounder excelled despite poor game-planning being only part of the equation. 

The Browns' offensive front as previously constructed wasn't powerful at the point of attack. As such, the group didn't consistently win at the line of scrimmage, thus making life quite difficult for Cleveland's running backs. 

Over the last two seasons, Chubb tied for 28th (2.1) and 23rd (2.1) in average yards before contact per carry, per Pro Football Reference. Conversely, the Browns back has generated the second-most yards after contact (1,480) of any running back in the league since 2018. 

According to Pro Football Focus, the 2019 Pro Bowler is the only runner since 2006 to average over four-plus yards after contact per carry for his career.

Chubb's ability to parry defenders stems from a combination of outstanding vision, decisive cuts, a powerful lower body and surprising burst through the hole with better-than-average long speed. The first defender almost never brings him down, while attempted arm-tackles are laughable. Broken tackles are often left in his wake. 

Life should be much easier in 2020 and beyond thanks to new head coach Kevin Stefanski, his system and an improved surrounding cast. 

Stefanski brings both a commitment to the ground game and a scheme ideally suited to Chubb's strengths. Last season, the first-time head coach served as the Minnesota Vikings' offensive play-caller. The Vikings were one of only three teams to run the ball more than they passed. 

The wide zone will serve as the basis for the entire offense, which will simplify everything for the Browns while simultaneously making Cleveland harder to defend. 

"You can create more explosive runs and within that limit negative plays," offensive line coach Bill Callahan told reporters. "Most importantly, it all ties into the passing game. It all looks the same. ... So many things can come off the wide zone: bootlegs, waggles and shot plays. There's a lot of variety, though it all starts looking the same, but it's different." 

Chubb was arguably the NFL's best zone runner before participating in a scheme that will commit to a zone-heavy ground game. Now, his patience and decisiveness will be rewarded, as he'll be the focal point of the offense. 

Cleveland's expected increase in tight end usage will also give the Browns more options to create a numbers advantage in the box. Stefanski utilized two-plus-tight-end sets 54 percent of the time last season, according to Sharp Football's Warren Sharp. In fact, Minnesota became the first team since the 2015 Tennessee Titans not to use 11 personnel at least 33 percent of the time, per Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz

Both Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant, whom the front office acquired this offseason, are versatile tight ends with average-to-above-average in-line blocking skills. They're not the only roster improvements. 

General manager Andrew Berry signed Jack Conklin, the top available offensive tackle on the free-agent market. The 25-year-old right tackle agreed to a three-year, $42 million deal. 

"You talk about a system fit. You couldn't get a more perfect tackle in free agency than Jack," Callahan said. "He fits the mode for the wide zone game and his pass protection sets, how he short sets and he jumps at the line of scrimmage, which is a tough skill to acquire." 

Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

The Browns used the 10th overall pick to draft left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who played on the right side at Alabama. According to Pro Football Focus, Wills graded as the top zone blocker in the 2019 class. He'll also add much-needed physicality. The 21-year-old blocker explodes out of his stance and buries opponents. 

"To be able to switch teams and have a guy who's just as good [as Henry] and be able to have an opportunity to go win that record again next year, that's my goal," Conklin said about wanting Chubb to win the 2020 rushing title, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich.

On top of the previously factors mentioned, Berry traded for true fullback Andy Janovich, who will lead the way as another blocker. 

There will be comparisons between Chubb and Henry because they were the league's top two rushers last year and the power they possess. Chubb is in a better position this year because the Browns continued to improve this offseason, while the Titans might regress without Conklin. 

An alternative analogy may better suit what the Browns did for Chubb this offseason.

Last offseason, the Baltimore Ravens committed to their top offensive weapon, quarterback Lamar Jackson, by changing their entire offensive scheme and adding the right personnel to maximize his ability. The Browns have done the same for Chubb, which will make him an on-field force Cleveland hasn't seen in decades. 


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski