The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently unsure about their situation with Le’Veon Bell, especially in the long term. Nick Chubb rushed for over 1,000 yards in three of his four seasons in college. His sophomore year was ended early with a knee injury. But, his freshman season featured 1,547 and 14 touchdowns and his senior year featured 1,345 and 15. He changed his style a bit due to the injury but is an impactful runner. Does he fit on the Steelers?
Chubb is going to be mainly be looked at as a power back, who can only live on first and second down. That may be true, but the power to be a touchdown producer will be there in the NFL.
Take the play below for example. Chubb is closing out a two-score game here. It is second and ten and he is caught in the backfield. After a tough game, he could let the clock run, try on third down and punt with little time. No, Chubb is churning a loss of three into a gain of 11 and a win right then and there. He is taking the ref if he has to.
Chubb does a really strong job of turning nothing into something. Take this first down toss below. This is doomed from the start, but Chubb picks up three yards after contact to survive the play and make it second and ten.
Chubb is touched at the line of scrimmage, he sheds three tacklers and drags a fourth to the ground. The power image of Nick Chubb is on full display here.
Watch the fight in Chubb as he picks up a first down on second and one. He can be your shortage back there is no doubt about that. No play is dead with Nick Chubb.
With that power, comes vision and patience and that is what makes him a true problem, and one that does translate to the NFL.
On the play below he sees nothing. However, he remains patient, evades one defender at the line and hits his hole for a first down, another broken tackle and another defender dragged for extra yards.
Chubb sees an immediate hole up the middle. However, he is not taking it. He sees the safety closing in on it. His vision to the second level helps him wait out the hole between the tackle and the guard and his burst into the secondary with the safety having to re-route himself allows Chubb to pick up extra yards.
The vision for Chubb works so well because he is able to get outside and make plays in the open field. In the play below, Nick Chubb shows that he is coming up the middle. He is a power back making the box clogged with defenders. However, he is drawing the defense inside to kick this run outside for a first down and then some.
Chubb was a lot more dynamic when he was younger and before his leg injury, but he still has wiggle. This wiggle helps him create extra yards in the open field, catches defenders off guard to lower his shoulder into and helps him kick runs to the outside after he draws defenders in with his powerful presence.
He also uses that speed to get make plays in the open field. It is not going to occur at the same rate in the NFL, but do not mistake him using power for being a slow running back who cannot break runs outside for big gains in the NFL.
The fact of the matter is at running back, he has 758 carries in the SEC and has had multiple ligaments worked on. His knee injury was not an ACL injury, but he is a different runner since his injury.
While he gets outside at times it will not occur as often. He is also is adequate in the open field where he would have been elite a few years ago. It also impacts his long-term implications for the team. Most evaluators would look at him and assume the plan would be to get the most out of him in his first four seasons and play it year by year from there.
On the field, the big elephant in the room is his ability in the passing game. Since his freshman year, he has 13 receptions. It does not even matter if he can pass block. if he cannot catch the football, he cannot play on third down. It limits his upside and most certainly will be a question that will follow him into the NFL combine.
Pro Comparison: Jay Ajayi
The two running backs that come to mind the most when watching Chubb as a runner are Jay Ajayi and Mark Ingram. Ajayi is a better comparison due to the long-term question that follows Ajayi and Chubb, and the pass catching.
Knee questions ruined the draft process for Ajayi. They will linger over Chubb as well. The fall put Ajayi in a tough situation and with a coaching staff that did not pick him. Hopefully the same does not happen to Chubb.
However, Ajayi does catch passes. It is only about 25 per season but he is able to stay on the field for third down due to some threat of pass-catching ability. Ingram is known for being the power back to the pass catcher of Alvin Kamara. but Ingram is a solid pass-catching back who can play on third down as well. He catches at an even higher rate than Ajayi due to his offense.
If Chubb can at least get to the Ajayi level as a pass catcher, there is an obvious place for him in the NFL. Ajayi is currently helping the Philadelphia Eagles make the Super Bowl and is about to enter year four in the NFL.
Fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers
The issue with Chubb is his pass catching ability. This is an offense that wants to air it out, and use their running back as a key weapon in the passing game. That is something that has kept James Conner on the sideline. While Chubb would be a slight upgrade from Conner, nothing in his rookie season showed being replaced. There is no reason to jump early on a goal-line back, and at this point, that is all that Nick Chubb would be to the Steelers. His long term availability still has the Steelers looking for a compliment as well. Considering the injury question and the long-term concerns, he will not be a player who the Pittsburgh Steelers will see on their draft board.