Chasing History: How Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt can follow path of Browns' predecessors

Jaylon Thompson
USA TODAY Sports Plus

Cleveland Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell didn’t mince words when discussing the likelihood of dual 1,000-yard seasons for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. 

“That’s going to happen,” Mitchell said last December. “I knew that was going to happen before the season started. That was our goal. That’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of what game it is going to happen.”

Mitchell’s bold claim drew a lot of attention. In NFL history, just seven backfield duos featured players who each eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. Baltimore Ravens teammates Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram II achieved the milestone during the 2019 season.

There is a good chance that Chubb and Hunt can join that list. Chubb rushed for 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2020. Hunt ran for 841 yards and six rushing touchdowns in a complementary role. And with the NFL adopting a 17th game this season, the chances have increased.

It has also led to more discussion regarding how both players can accomplish the task.

“I always think that there is more that we can do,” Chubb told local reporters during minicamp. “Kareem is an awesome teammate and awesome player. Every year, it is great to go out there and play with him. I think every year is a chance for us to go out there and show how we can continue to be a dynamic duo every year.”

Cleveland running backs Kareem Hunt (27) and Nick Chubb (24) during organized team activities at the Browns training facility on May 15, 2019.

So, how can Chubb and Hunt get it done?

The path could resemble that of the 1985 Browns’ team. That season, the Browns had stellar running backs Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner in the backfield. Both players also eclipsed 1,000-yards each due to a renewed focus on the running game.

The 1985 team averaged 4.3 yards per carry and accounted for 119 first downs. They also added 16 total rushing touchdowns. According to Pro Football Reference, the Browns ranked eighth in rushing during the season.

Mack and Byner had a total of 466 rushing attempts. Mack accounted for 1,104 rushing yards. Byner had 1,002 yards on the ground.

The Browns thrived by splitting touches between both players. Byner was more of a receiving threat and Mack thrived in the early-down work. It worked due to their willingness to work as a unit. As a result, both players earned Pro Bowl nominations that season.

There are a lot of similarities between the 1985 duo and Chubb and Hunt. Last season, the Browns ranked third in rushing. Hunt averaged 4.2 yards and Chubb dominated opposing defenses with a 5.6 yards per carry.

Both players garnered 388 rushing attempts. This includes the four games Chubb missed due to a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve.

There is no drop in production with either player in the game.  It’s conceivable that with a full season, Chubb and Hunt can match the numbers of their predecessors.

In fact, Browns’ offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt is already working on ways to get both players on the field together.

“I think we felt very comfortable with how we used them last year with kind of the one-two counter punches and keeping them fresh as long as we could into each game,” Van Pelt said during minicamp. “However, you want to put your most talented players on the field and Kareem is definitely deserving of getting playing time along with Nick (Chubb) in certain packages. Those are the things we looked at in the offseason and will continue to grow.”

The Browns plan to utilize the running game to set up their passing attack. With the emergence of Baker Mayfield and the return of NFL star Odell Beckham Jr., it’s possible opposing defenses will have to choose whether to focus on the backfield mates this season.

Offensive balance was important in the Browns reaching the AFC divisional round last season. The Browns averaged 148.4 rushing yards and 231.3 passing yards. A slight increase in either area will streamline more opportunities for both Chubb and Hunt to reach the mark.

Hunt is ready to make history. He told Akron Beacon-Journal reporter Nate Ulrich that the 2020 success was a precursor to what’s to come this season.

“I believed it was possible last year, too, but some things happened,” Hunt said after his football camp at Willoughby South High School in June. “We’ll learn from it and get better and hopefully continue to put in good work this year.”

If the Browns have their way, Mitchell’s bold prediction will come true along with another trip to the playoffs in tow.