The value of the running back position has been a hot debate in recent seasons, but as NFL teams — OK, some teams — have stopped spending significant resources on the position, more and more backfield committees have formed. In recent seasons, we’ve seen an injection of impressive talent to the position, which has led to many offenses forming productive one-two punches.
Few would argue that the best of those duos is the Cleveland Browns‘ Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, though an MCL injury suffered by Chubb on Sunday has derailed the unit for at least a month or two. It’s an unfortunate loss for 3-1 Cleveland, considering that the team’s running back room paces the league in carries (126), rushing yards (729), scrimmage yards (803) and touchdowns (nine). Chubb and Hunt have been the catalysts, with both averaging over 5.4 yards per carry and ranking among the top three in yards after first contact among backs with more than 30 carries.
The recent success of the duo is hardly a surprise considering the damage each has done since entering the NFL. Since Chubb was drafted in 2018, he leads qualified backs with a 5.2 yards per carry, and his 2.3 average yards after contact is second behind only … Hunt (2.6). Hunt just turned 25 years old, and Chubb is four months behind, so these two — who are both signed through at least 2021 — are well positioned to dominate the league together for years to come.
In the meantime, as Chubb hits injured reserve, Hunt will be joined by some combination of D’Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard, and he will likely take on a more sizable lead-back role. The Chubb-Hunt dominance is put on hold, and the injury means the Browns no longer field the top running back duo in the NFL.
So which team’s tandem jumps to the top of the list? Here is my ranking of the top 10 duos in the NFL right now after Chubb’s injury.
Key stat: Among running backs with at least 100 carries since the start of 2019, Cook and Mattison rank No. 9 (4.8) and No. 12 (4.6) in yards per carry, respectively.
We know Cook is one of the best in the business, having exploded into the “elite” conversation with 1,654 yards and 13 touchdowns on 303 touches in 14 games last season. And the 2017 second-round draft pick picked up where he left off, pacing all running backs with 424 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Cook can do it all, ranking in the top 10 among backs in both rushing and receiving yardage last season while also ranking atop the position in yards after the catch (11.3).
The name you might not know as well is Mattison. The 2019 Day 3 draft pick was phenomenal off the bench as a rookie, putting up 544 yards on 110 touches. He has forced his way into a larger piece of the pie this season and has turned 29 touches into 140 yards while playing 25% of the offensive snaps. Similar to Cleveland’s duo, Cook (25 years old, signed through 2025) and Mattison (22, 2022) are both young and signed long term.