Cleveland Browns haven’t thrown to Nick Chubb since 2019
Nick Chubb began his career with the Browns as the backup to Carlos Hyde, a capable veteran. Somehow, Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley came up with the genius plan that Chubb needed to be limited to three rushes per game and zero pass receptions.
That ticked John Dorsey off so much that he traded Hyde, forcing the coaches to start Chubb. He didn’t get his first NFL catch till the eighth game of the season but eventually wound up with 20 catches in 29 targets (69.0 catch percentage).
Back in 2019, in the Air Freddie days, Nick Chubb was the third most targeted receiver on the Browns behind Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr., with 49 targets. He snagged 36 catches for a 73.5 catch percentage. He also added 1,494 rushing yards and made the Pro Bowl. That was the end of Chubb’s productive Browns receiving career.
In 2020, Chubb had only 16 catches in 18 targets while improving his catch percentage to 88.9. In 2021, he was 20 for 25 (80.0 percent).
The numbers show that Chubb was not used as a receiver the past two seasons, despite the fact that his catch percentage improved significantly, and Mayfield took 43 sacks in 2021 and desperately needed to find the halfback in the flat more often.
Somehow, the Browns could run-block effectively but not pass-block, and they could run the halfback screen pass with three other halfbacks but not Nick Chubb in 2021. That is the part that argues against it being some odd feature of the Browns offense. Every other back is targeted except Chubb.
To be fair, there are other good backs who are not used as pass-catchers by their teams, often in the two-tight end scheme. Chubb was targeted once every 19.3 snaps. Derrick Henry was targeted 20 times in only eight games, but he managed to take 411 snaps in those eight games, or one target every 20.6 snaps.
In Henry’s case, he’s such a workhorse that load management may be a concern. He gets enough touches on the ground that the Titans might not want to overextend him. In addition, a highly mobile quarterback like Ryan Tannehill may be willing to extend a pass play by scrambling rather than using the halfback in the flat.
The Browns, however, have the option of using Kareem Hunt or D’Ernest Johnson for a play or two to give Chubb a breather if he needs it. Because of team depth, Chubb probably has much more gas left in the tank each game than Henry.
Elijah Mitchell of the 49ers was targeted once every 22.1 snaps, based on 19 receptions in 20 targets. The 49ers often used two-back formations with fullback Kyle Juszczyk getting 38 targets. That pretty much explains that.
On the other hand, Rashaad Penny of the Seahawks was targeted only eight times with six catches, but gained 749 yards and posted 6.3 yards per carry in only 253 snaps. That’s a target every 31.6 snaps. He’s the statistical outlier for the NFL.
For whatever reason, when Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb were on the field together, Chubb either ran the ball or someone else caught it. Somehow, between the coaches and the quarterback, the Browns just didn’t want Chubb to catch passes. His ability as a pass-catcher is certainly top five among NFL running backs, but his numbers are bottom five among running backs.
If the Browns want to limit Chubb’s touches, okay, fine. That’s not an excuse for shutting him down as a pass receiver. They still have Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, and Demetric Felton who are available to pick up additional playing time.
However, there’s no question that the Browns will generate more yards if they let Chubb catch passes. His figure of merit was a healthy 8.3 yards per target in 2020 and 7.0 in 2021, which is excellent for a running back.
By comparison, Joe Mixon averaged 5.3 yards per target in 2020 and 6.5 in 2021 for the Bengals; J.K. Dobbins averaged 5.0 yards/target for the Ravens in 2020 before being injured in 2021; Najee Harris averaged 5.0 yards/target last season in his rookie campaign. So why was Chubb limited to only 25 targets last season, while Mixon had 48 targets last season and Harris had an astounding 94 targets last season?
In 2019, in the Air Freddie offense, Chubb had 49 targets and 36 catches, so it’s not like he does not know how to receive the ball. He has just fallen into disuse as a receiver the past two seasons with the Stefanski offense and Baker Mayfield at the controls. Was it Stefanski’s idea or Baker’s?
There is any number of media analysts that understand x’s and o’s better than this writer, but no one has offered a coherent justification for not using Chubb more in the passing game. Until someone explains it, I’m going to continue to say it was dysfunctional. Or, in plain English, it was nuts.
This writer has stated in print that the Cleveland Browns need to be Nick Chubb’s team, at least on offense (we all know who the leader of the defense is). Nick Chubb should be a Hall of Fame running back. However, in 2021, he was one-dimensional.
In any case, there is no doubt that Nick Chubb’s career as a receiver has gone south the longer he has worked with Baker Mayfield.