The concept of this series was birthed from a couple of conversations with the Footballers asking the question, “If we could go forward in time (essentially Back to the Future), what breakouts would emerge at each position“? This was the main topic of the most recent Live Show in San Francisco, the Fantasy Time Machine. For the premiere, we narrowed the field to find 2019’s George Kittle.
For our next task, let’s take a moment to dwell on what made Browns rookie RB Nick Chubb so special in 2018. Here are five specific criteria identified that allows us to eliminate and narrow the field of fantasy RBs to find a couple at the very end who might have the opportunity to do Chubb-ish things.
For the Ballers official sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the RB position, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.
1. FREE in drafts
What made Chubb so fun to own last year was that you likely scooped him up off the waiver wire either after his monster Week 4 game or after the coaching regime change. Regardless, the value & opportunity to “swing for the fences” with a late round rookie RB is always a great route to take in fantasy. You can’t always bank on finding a gem off wire but finding this year’s Chubb will need to be a player drafted late or basically free in drafts. He finished as the 9th most consistent back in fantasy due to only busting in 10% of his games while finishing with a “good” game 80% of the time.
Players Eliminated: Any RB in the top eight rounds
2. Offense with Commitment to Run the Ball
The Browns came into the season with a top-10 Offensive Line according to Pro Football Focus and even when names changed, their running philosophy remained consistent. Carlos Hyde averaged 19 rushing attempts per game in the first six weeks! Once Chubb took over, he saw 17.6 rushing attempts per game and averaged 82.3 yards on the ground per game. That total would’ve been 4th highest in the league. There needs to be an offense with balance and commitment to run the ball in order for someone to see enough touches.
3. Ambiguous Backfield with the Opportunity to Become Main Guy
The Browns RB depth chart heading into Week 1 was Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, and then Chubb. Hyde was the off-season signing while Johnson was coming off a 93 target, seven total TD season that ended as a fluky low-end RB1 in PPR leagues. Chubb was the forgotten man despite being the most talented back on the team. Veteran known RBs can often be smokescreens for a more talented player. A backfield is deemed ambiguous if the current perceived starter possesses much less talent and upside. Take for example last year in Detroit with LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Kerryon Johnson. It was clear who had the ability to takeover a backfield if the coaching staff wisens up.
4. Team with a Chance for New Life
The Browns were a dumpster fire heading into the season after an 0-16 season. There was writing on the wall that head coach Hugh Jackson’s tenure was soon to be over. Chubb was clearly under-utilized in the first six weeks as he had only 16 combined rushes. Even in Week 4 when he broke through for 61 and 43-yard TDs, the coaching staff was slow to adjust. Jackson’s exit led to the promotion of Freddie Kitchens and, in turn, Baker Mayfield and the entire offense’s progression.
5. RBs with the Chance to Breakoff the Big Runs
The Browns clearly loved Chubb as he was drafted at the top of 2nd round. While at University of Georgia, Chubb showcased some elite long speed that made him more than just a between-the-tackles runner. Despite not being the starting RB until Week 7, Chubb had 11 runs of 20+ yards–tied for 2nd most in the NFL behind only Saquon Barkley! If you owned Chubb, you likely performed well in the fantasy playoffs due to his big play ability.
The RBs with Best Chance to Be Nick Chubb-ish
Damien Harris– With the recent news of Sony Michel‘s injury and placement on the PUP List, Harris likely won’t be able to stay on this list for too much longer. His current ADP (12.06) makes him a very attractive late-round RB target to do special things on a special offense. Although Tom Brady and the short-to-intermediate passing game gets all the publicity, the Patriots ran the 3rd most rushing plays in the league in 2018. Michel has a major injury history dating all the way back to high school. There’s always value in the New England backfield but the ambiguity makes it hard to discern sometimes. Take advantage of Harris well-rounded athletic profile coming out of Alabama and an opportunity for him to assert himself in 2019 as a rookie.
Justice Hill– The Ravens were committed to running the football whether it be QB Lamar Jackson or UDFA Gus “the Bus” Edwards, who was a consistent fantasy asset out of nowhere last year. Mark Ingram was signed in the off-season to be the main guy but he is approaching the wrong side of his career arc. Hill ran a 4.4 at the combine and possessed some “lightning in a bottle” abilities while in a prolific offense at Oklahoma State. While he will have to work on his pass protection, he could certainly find his way to more touches in an offense predicated on pounding the rock as they averaged 152.6 rushing yards per game, 2nd most in the NFL.
Devin Singletary– The Bills have the most ambiguous backfield in the NFL. They have two of the oldest farts around who are about to plunge off the RB cliff. Shady McCoy (31 years old) has logged 2,346 carries and Frank Gore (531 years old) is at the end of his limits. Enter Singletary. According to Graham Barfield’s yards created metric, Devin Singletary ran behind the worst offensive line of this RB class. He still had massive production with over 125 yards and 2 rushing TDs per game over the last 2 years. He may be small and more quick than fast, but his missed tackle rate is more that of a power back than a scat back. Singletary is currently going at the end of the 11th round in drafts.
Matt Breida– As highlighted by Andy at the live show, the world is focused on the return of Jerrick McKinnon and the arrival of Tevin Coleman in San Francisco. We’re forgetting that last season Brieda ran for 5.5 yards per carry. In his career, he’s a 5.0 per carry guy over 258 carries. He also consistently gashes defenses with 17% of his runs being 10+ yards, that was #1 in football, 2% better than Aaron Jones and Alvin Kamara. He averaged 6 yards per touch, the same as Christian McCaffrey. Beyond the eye-popping stats, he’s being selected as the RB45 in drafts.
Honorable Mention: Darwin Thompson, Malcolm Brown