Cleveland Browns: Is a Nick Chubb extension the smart move?

Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) during the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes against the New York Jets during a game at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford. /

Nick Chubb wants to stay in Cleveland long-term. Is that the best move for the team?

The Cleveland Browns kicked off 2021 minicamp on Tuesday, and while the new additions made headlines for their presence on the field, the biggest story of the day was extension talk, specifically about Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Ward will get a new deal, but Chubb’s situation is infinitely more nuanced.

Is giving the running back a second contract the wise choice for the Browns, and what would a good deal look like, from both perspectives?

Do running backs matter?

It’s no secret that the NFL is a passing league. It has been for a while, and every year it becomes more important to throw and more important not to run.

Expected Points Added (EPA) is a metric that is fairly self-explanatory. Essentially, it asks the question of how effective a play (or player) was in terms of points, and quantifies that with a number to compare with others.

Using Ben Baldwin’s wonderful comparison tool, we can visually graph pass vs. run plays using EPA, and the results are telling.

The Kansas City Chiefs were the most efficient rushing team in the NFL, averaging about 0.13 EPA/play. That’s first out of 32 teams. However, 15 teams averaged that much or more throwing the ball. So when the very best running team runs the ball, they are only about as effective as an average passing team throwing the ball.

This is an oversimplification of things, but it’s an entirely valid conclusion from the data. The trend is even more visible when looking at the past five seasons combined:

Running the ball still has a place in today’s game of football. But that place is in the backseat, in short-yardage situations, at the end of games after you’ve built a lead by throwing the ball and stopping the other team from doing the same.

Common football knowledge says you need to establish the run early to set the tone and set the defense up to be burnt by play action later on, make things easier for your quarterback, wear down the defense, keep the defense rested, and other rubbish that isn’t actually backed up by what happens on the field.

Running the ball has been synonymous with football since the sport’s inception, so it’s difficult for many to acknowledge that it’s all but obsolete. That may be a bit harsh, and you can still incorporate the run game effectively into an offense, but the bottom line is that throwing the ball wins games, and you can’t win the Super Bowl if you don’t have a good passing game. It’s just a fact.

In spite of all that data, it’s difficult to overstate how important Chubb is to this team. He is the best pure runner in football, and it’s an absolute joy to watch him on a weekly basis.

His footwork is lightning quick and he has unbelievable vision to go along with excellent elusiveness and power. He makes somethings out of nothings, gets everything that’s blocked and then some, and routinely ended games in the fourth quarter with huge first down runs.

The fact that he is so good is all the more incredible when you remember the horrifying knee injury he suffered as a freshman at Georgia. Chubb is a freak of nature in the very best sense of the term.

Cleveland’s running game struggled during the four games he missed, even with former Pro Bowler Kareem Hunt to take his place. Hunt fits best in a gap scheme (which the Browns ran quite a bit of as the season progressed – a coach putting his talent in the best spot to be successful, what an idea), but Cleveland is based in outside zone, which requires athletic offensive linemen and a back with elite vision and cutback ability; that’s Chubb, and while good running backs can be found on Day 3 in every single draft, the ones as good as Chubb do not grow on trees.