Browns' Nick Chubb on NFL rushing title: 'If it happens, it happens. I'm just going to keep doing what I do'

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal
Browns running back Nick Chubb signs autographs for fans on Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland.

Nick Chubb never wants to finish second in anything.

But given the circumstances the Browns encountered during the 2021 season, Chubb considers finishing runner-up for the NFL rushing title an accomplishment.

The passing game was broken for much of the season, allowing defenses to sell out to stop the run.

There were injuries on the offensive line, headlined by All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin missing 10 games, including the final five because of a season-ending ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell stepped away from the team in late October because of a medical issue related to a knee injury.

Chubb missed three games, two with a calf injury and one with COVID-19.

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Yet Chubb racked up 1,259 yards on 228 carries (5.5 average) and eight touchdowns. His total yardage on the ground trailed only the 2021 rushing champion, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. In 17 games, Taylor compiled 332 carries for 1,811 yards (5.5 average) and 18 touchdowns.

“It says a lot about our team, about our offensive line,” Chubb said Monday on Zoom. “Those guys work hard for us up front. They block a lot of big guys, have stacked boxes, they still plug their way through, get to the second level and hit the linebackers and block defensive linemen very well.

“It's a team effort getting second. It's not first, so it's not the best, but it's definitely something. Being through everything we've been through this year, not even having Coach Stump, O-line missing games, we haven't had Jack all year pretty much, so it says a lot about this team and how well we run the ball.”

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Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) escapes Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) as he rushes for yards during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

The Browns had the league's fourth-ranked rushing attack (145.4 yards per game). They were 27th in passing (195.3 yards a game).

Chubb has yet to capture a rushing title, but he has landed in the No. 2 spot twice. In 2019, Chubb lost the rushing title to the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry by 46 yards (1,540 to 1,494), and it came down to the final game of the season.

During training camp in 2020, Chubb said he had “more motivation” and would aim for the title. But a sprained right medial collateral ligament cost Chubb four games during the 2020 season, which he finished ranked seventh in rushing (1,067 yards).

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Asked Monday if trying to win a rushing title is still in the back of his mind, Chubb said, “If it happens, it happens. I'm just going to keep doing what I do.”

Unlike most starting running backs in the NFL, Chubb has a bona fide star right behind him, plus a strong third-string player at his position. No. 2 back Kareem Hunt rushed 78 times for 386 yards (4.9 average) and five touchdowns in eight games. Hunt, the 2017 NFL rushing champ, missed nine games due to calf and ankle injuries. No. 3 back D'Ernest Johnson had 100 carries for 534 yards (5.3 average) and three touchdowns.

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Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes for yards during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

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Chubb, 26, is elite. The 2018 second-round draft pick (No. 35 overall) from the University of Georgia is the only player in the league who has rushed for at least 950 yards in each of the past four seasons.

The Browns rewarded him this past summer with a three-year, $36.6 million contract extension.

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Still, Hunt and Johnson are quality options, too.

“Nick is a beast. He runs hard. He has really everything you want in a running back, and he's so humble and he works so hard,” four-time Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio said Monday. “I want all the good fortune for Nick Chubb on the football field 'cause he deserves it.

“He missed a few games. Obviously, Jonathan Taylor and Derrick Henry are great running backs, and they both had good years. Derrick Henry obviously got hurt [in 2021]. But Nick's going to come out and work, and I think the one positive about our running back situation is we have D'Ernest and Kareem and guys that can take some of the workload off him, so he doesn't need to run the ball 30 times, and I think that's going to help the longevity of his career.

“The rushing title would be great but, honestly, we're at the point now where we want wins, and Nick might never get 30 carries a game like some of these other running backs. He might be in that 20 carries a game if Kareem's getting five or 10 and D'Ernest is getting five. So it's always going to be a little bit spread out, but we know when we give the guy the ball, good things are going to happen.”

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Chubb's selfless attitude is crucial to it all working. He is the ultimate lead-by-example player, but he realizes the Browns may need him to become more vocal coming off their disappointing 8-9 record in the 2021 season.

“If I have to, I definitely will say something if things aren't going well or I feel like I need to say something — for sure,” Chubb said. “I'm about to be a fifth-year, seasoned vet, so I feel like I have established myself as someone who can say something, and guys will hopefully respect that. I'm willing to do whatever I need to do to win games, and if I have to step up and say something, I will.

“It won't be difficult because if I say something, I feel like it will really come from within. I don't think it will be forced at all. If I need to say something, I would. I wouldn't just make something up. It would come from the heart.”

The Browns have never questioned Chubb's heart.

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Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) rushes for yards against Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Nate Ulrich can be reached at