Nick Chubb Has All Of The Tools To Be A Really Good NFL Running Back.
With Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice likely off the board in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the second round and beyond will offer a host of other talented backs that will have the chance to rise and fall on draft boards leading up to the draft. Among these backs is Nick Chubb, one of the two highly touted running backs out of the University of Georgia.
Nick Chubb, in his freshman year and the beginning of his sophomore year, appeared to be a lock as a top NFL prospect when he reached draft eligibility. Unfortunately for Nick Chubb and football fans everywhere, Chubb suffered a knee injury that ended his sophomore season. The injury lingered into his junior season. Chubb played every game, but didn’t look nearly as explosive as he had in his first two seasons.
Coming into the 2017 season, one of the biggest question marks about this running back class was whether or not Nick Chubb would be able to return to his original form. The answer was sort of. He still didn’t look as explosive laterally as he did in his early years, but he looked like a completely different back than the 2016 recovering-version of Nick Chubb. The 2017 version was far closer to what we saw in his early time at Georgia than it was to the severely limited 2016 version.
The question that this leaves is will Nick Chubb continue to grow into an even better running back than we saw in 2017. The answer to that is anybody’s guess. For now, the best we can do is look at his 2017 tape and evaluate where he is at now which, in my mind, is a potentially very good NFL back.
I’m sure most people have seen this run by now, but it is always a fun one to watch. Chubb’s vision, balance, and power are all on full display here.
Nick Chubb: Strengths
Power and Balance
Nick Chubb is an incredibly powerful back. He has a ridiculously strong lower body that requires very little momentum to push around defenders. He uses his size to his advantage and does a good job of driving through contact. You will very rarely see Nick Chubb’s legs go dead on contact. He is consistently driving and lurching forward to try and gain extra yards. He isn’t so much a “run over the defender” runner as he is a “run through contact” runner. There is a difference.
Chubb isn’t the type of back to regularly square up a defender and attack him. More often, he uses his agility and body control to avoid straight on hits, and uses his power and balance to run through contact from defenders that no longer have ideal angles. That said, he isn’t afraid to lower his head and push through a pile when the situation dictates it.
Nick Chubb’s balance is among his best traits. His strong legs, low pad level through contact, and his consistently good leg drive allow him to maintain his balance through contact that would bring down most backs.
This is Nick Chubb summarized in one play. The ability to maintain his balance through this kind of contact is his trademark. This is what defines him as a back. Very rarely does Chubb go down easy. He always tries to fight through contact, and he does so while maintaining a path downfield. He takes a bit of time to pick his lane, but once he picks it, everything that he does is very deliberate. Every move he makes is to get further down field, and he fights for every inch.
On this run, Chubb recognizes that the edge is set and gets up field in a hurry. He makes an impressive subtle quick cut, leaning inside to avoid his fallen fullback and has to cut immediately back outside to avoid the safety. The safety gets a good piece of him as he is briefly vulnerable mid-cut, but his balance is on full display as he manages to maintain his footing for the score.
His combination of balance and power make Nick Chubb a force between the tackles and among the elite prospects in terms of generating consistent yards after contact, something that the Detroit Lions struggled with in 2017. Power and balance are traits that are very translatable and will help him with teams across the board. His ability to create yards after contact will be desirable for teams regardless of scheme or blocking quality. For teams like the Detroit Lions, who have routinely struggled to generate push up front, Chubb’s ability to create his own yards with his strong lower body will help him make the most of the minimal help that running backs have received in the Detroit Lions’ offense.
Chubb does and excellent job of getting a low pad level to help maximize his already low center of gravity. Watch Nick Chubb find the hole, locate the defender that he intends to attack, lower his pad level and explode through contact.
Nick Chubb has a strong lower body that requires very little momentum to gain extra yards after contact. This helps to complement his patient running style. He doesn’t often generate a lot of momentum on his way to the line of scrimmage, because he is patiently waiting for a hole. This run illustrates how Chubb can carry defenders with very little momentum for a significant gain. He wins with pure strength and determination.
On this run, watch Chubb lead inside, baiting the linebacker into the hole and break the run off the right tackle. He maintains his balance through ccontact, turns up field and shows us what he is capable of when he decides to take on defenders head on. Notice the impressive burst into contact that Chubb displays when he makes the decision to get up field and take on the defender to get the first down.
Nick Chubb has among the best vision in the class. His reaction speed and anticipation aren’t elite level, but his ability to pick his way through traffic, find creases and exploit them is among the best in the 2018 draft class.
Chubb routinely finds space where there appears to be none. His balance and power help him to make the most of this by allowing him to power through contact in tight spaces, and maintain his balance when he is navigating through murky areas.
Watch Chubb’s ability to pick his way through traffic for the score. There is very little wasted movement here. He simply sidesteps the penetration on the left side of the line and makes a couple of subtle cuts, working behind blockers while maintaining a path to the end zone. He finishes the run by showing off his leg drive. Notice his legs still driving, even after he is upended heading into the end zone.
This run looks well defended, but Chubb finds a little space on the left side of the line. Watch him lean outside to bait the defense before making his slight break back inside and upfield. From their, his power and balance are on full display as he runs through a number of defenders.
His vision something that is going to help him immensely at the next level. For teams without excellent offensive lines, his ability to create his own yardage is something that will help him succeed in a less than ideal situation.
Lions fans saw Abdullah and Riddick struggle to find the right lanes far too often this past year. It was one of the major contributing factors to their ineffectiveness in the run game. This is one of Nick Chubb’s strengths, and would provide an immediate service to the Lions’ offense.
Speed and Burst
I’m putting this in the “Strengths” column, not because I believe that Nick Chubb has elite speed or burst, but because I believe that he has adequate speed and burst. Many people have knocked him for his lack of track star speed and criticized his short area burst. I believe that people are trying to compare him to his Georgia counterpart, Sony Michel.
Chubb and Michel are two completely different backs, and they are both being done a disservice by the comparison. They win in different ways. While Nick Chubb isn’t going to win regularly with his long speed, he isn’t going to lose because of it either.
Chubb’s isn’t going to wow anyone with his forty. But runs like this show you that his speed is certainly not going to be a detriment to his success in the NFL. Along with the speed, watch the patience at the line of scrimmage, the vision to recognize the cutback lane, and the burst to get to and through the hole.
On this run, Chubb sees the linebackers flowing to the left side of the line, chooses the correct lane and breaks the run off to the sideline. He shows here that, while he doesn’t have elite speed, he certainly has the speed to get to the sideline and create big gains with straight line speed.His burst isn’t flashy, but notice how quickly and subtly he gets to top speed after making his cut to the sideline.
Similarly, Chubb’s lateral agility is severely underrated. He isn’t an incredibly elusive back that is going to juke defenders out of their shoes. That simply isn’t his style of running. That isn’t how he utilizes his lateral agility.
Chubb uses his lateral agility to get upfield from a horizontal path. He uses his agility to bait defenders, set up his blockers, and cut back behind them. He uses his lateral agility to minimize hits so that he can maximize the use of his power and balance through contact and continue up field.
This run is a perfect example of how Chubb uses his agility. Watch Nick Chubb lean outside, bait the defender, then cut back behind his blocker to get up field. Notice how quick and explosive that cut is. He drifts outside until the defender makes his move that way, then bursts back behind his blocker to get to the next level. At the second level, he adjusts his angle to the sideline to minimize the hit from the safety and throws a stiff arm to fight further downfield.
Anticipation and ability to create behind the line of scrimmage aren’t Chubb’s best traits, but he shows off what he is capable in that area on this run. He faces immediate pressure and uses his lateral agility to not only avoid the defender in the backfield, but continue working up field, eluding defenders, before finally being bested by a stray referee.
Another example of how his lateral agility can help him create, this run illustrates how Chubb can take a run that should go no where and turn it into positive yards on his own. Chubb quickly diagnoses the penetration, and is cutting outside on his first step post-hand off. His lateral agility allows him to avoid two defenders, leaving him two more to beat for the first down. He takes contact running horizontally from the two remaining defenders, but has the fight and the leg drive to push forward and somehow get the first down by a full yard. Watch the body control that he exhibits as he contorts his leg subtly away from the defender at the line of scrimmage to avoid contact. He ends the impressive run displaying more body control as he gets his hand in the dirt to maintain balance long enough to get the first down.
Nick Chubb may be the most patient runner in the 2018 NFL Draft. He does a really good job of waiting for holes to open, setting up his blocks, baiting defenders,and determining whether to bounce a run outside or to bang it between the tackles. This level of patience is something that is highly regarded since the emergence of Leveon Bell as an elite running back in the NFL.
Watch him read the defensive tackle. Nick Chubb stays patient here, watches the defensive tackle, leans outside until he is certain that the tackle can’t leverage his way back inside, and then Chubb makes his cut upfield behind his blocker. This sort of baiting is something that makes Chubb particularly effective at exploting the defense at both the first and second level.
Nick Chubb’s patience allows him to break off runs when a run appears to be going no where, and it allows him to make short-to-medium gains out of runs that may have netted nothing by a running back that is more aggressive to the hole.
This is how patience can benefit a running back. The blocking is quite good here, something that is important for a patient running style. As he approaches the line of scrimmage, pay attention to the second level of the defense. Everybody crashes down into the center of the field. Chubb waits until everyone is congested in the middle and then breaks outside for a nice gain. A less patient runner would have likely been stopped for no gain in the middle on this play.
Nick Chubb: Weaknesses
Yes, Nick Chubb’s patience is both a strength and a weakness. In many situations, as evidenced above, his patience is the reason for his success. In other situations, as evidenced below, his patience can get him into trouble. I talked about this briefly in the primer for this running back series. There is a very fine line between a patient runner and a tentative runner. Nick Chubb tightropes that line.
On this run, there is no where to go. Nick Chubb maybe could have bounced the run off the right side, but opted to try and find a lane inside instead. No such lane developed. Rather than try and force his way through the line and take what the defense is giving him, Chubb is indecisive and ends up taking a loss. You will see that at the end of the run, Chubb lowers his head and decides to plow forward. He is just late on that decision.
I’d certainly like to see Chubb work on his internal clock when it comes to his patience as a runner. He would do well to just get up field sometimes when he instead decides to continue looking for a crease where none exists. This goes to his running style at it’s core. Some runner’s styles change with coaching. Other’s do not. The good news for Nick Chubb, is that he really isn’t far from the ideal combination of patience and aggressiveness, he just needs to speed up his internal clock.
This is a run that just shouldn’t happen. He needs to have better situational awareness than this. On short yardage runs, the mentality needs to turn aggressive. Losing yards is not an option. On this run, Nick Chubb tries to avoid the penetration rather than recognizing the short yardage situation and trying to take what the defense is offering. The play results in a loss of yards.
This is an area that Nick Chubb needs to prove himself. He caught 18 passes in his freshman year, leaving room for optimism that he is a capable pass catcher. He is very tough to evaluate in this area, because of his usage at Georgia. It is very clear that Sony Michel was the preferred option in passing situations, which left very little work for Chubb in this area. Backs like Leonard Fournette and Jordan Howard showed very little in the passing game in college, but proved to be serviceable out of the back field in the NFL.
Chubb needs to prove that he is capable of this. He is probably never going to be a great route runner, but he needs to show that he has consistent hands and can catch the ball on check down passes.
As is the case with most running backs, Chubb looks lost in pass protection. The good news is that Chubb has ideal size, strength, and frame to be very good in protection at the next level with coaching. Chubb has shown the willingness to block in both the passing game and as a lead blocker in the run game and also doesn’t shy away from contact.
Ability in the Open Field
Chubb has good lateral agility, but doesn’t have good elusiveness. He also doesn’t prefer to run over tacklers in the open field. When Chubb gets to the next level, he prefers to avoid head on collisions and rely on his ability to run through arm tackles by creating poor tackling angles and forcing minimal contact.
On this run, Nick Chubb gets through the line of scrimmage and shows off his speed, but doesn’t have the arsenal in open field to turn this run into a touchdown. You’d like to see him be able to make a move on this defender and take the run to the house, but that just isn’t a huge part of Chubb’s game.
Nick Chubb: Overall
I really like Nick Chubb for the Detroit Lions. He has vision, power, balance, lateral agility, burst, adequate speed. He is a running back that is going to create yards after contact and find space where there doesn’t appear to be any. He can run through arm tackles and do all of the things that the Lions so desperately needed their backs to do for them last year.
His traits should translate to any scheme, and he will likely have a successful career, regardless of where he goes.
My concerns with Chubb are that he may need to become a more aggressive runner in the NFL. His sometimes tentative running style will do him no favors behind an offensive line that doesn’t generate push. He has a nice counter for this weakness with his power, balance, and leg drive. Chubb can do a lot with very little momentum.
While poor offensive line play will probably hinder his success in the NFL more than your average back, he also has the ability to make up for that with the ability it create yards on his own from essentially a standing position with his strong lower body and high-effort style of play.
In addition to some concerns with his running style, I’m unsure of how he will perform in the passing game. I have confidence in his ability to develop into at least an adequate pass protector, but there is very little to evaluate in the receiving game. We haven’t seen that he is ineffective out of the backfield, but we also haven’t seen anything to tell us that he is effective in that aspect either. If he can show that he can be a serviceable receiver out of the backfield, Chubb will have eliminated one of the most legitimate concerns about his game.
Overall, I really like Nick Chubb as a Detroit Lion, and I think that, especially with improved blocking schemes and offensive line play, Chubb could be a very successful back in Detroit for years to come.