Nick Chubb Saquon Barkley
Nick Chubb is better than Saquon Barkley (AP Photo/David Richard)

The running backs in the 2018 NFL Draft will forever be linked. The Giants picked Saquon Barkley with the 2nd overall pick for two reasons. New York clearly believed that Barkley not only was the best running back in the draft, he was also the best overall player in the class too. What if neither of those is true. Nick Chubb is better than Saquon Barkley. It’s only a matter of time before the rest of the league sees it that way.

Before you start cursing me out on Twitter (by all means feel free to do so, I encourage it) there are a lot of reasons why I believe Chubb will surpass Barkley. The list of evidence is longer than you might think. Chubb was actually the more efficient running back in 2018. Nick Chubb averaged 5.2 yards per carry compared to Barkley who notched a 5.0 YPC clip. In fact, Chubb was so good in 2018 that he was the best running back in the sport according to Pro Football Focus. NUMBER ONE! Barkley ranked 3rd according to PFF. Now I’m not a huge believer in PFF being the end all, be all either so feel free to cancel that out. You can also chalk up the YPC numbers to Barkley having more attempts. All fair points. However, when it comes to which back is the better overall runner, Chubb takes home the crown.

Analytics in football is still very far behind. We can also use Football Outsiders who also do some nice work. DVOA factors in strength of schedule somehow to production. In this case, Chubb ranks as the 14th best back in the sport. Barkley comes in as the 24th best. However, this is a stat that should be comparable given the fact that both Cleveland and New York had last place schedules. VOA removes strength of schedule and Chubb is still rated higher.

But how could this be! I’ve been lectured over and over how great this Saquon Barkley is. I’ve been told that this is a generational type of player. Why do the stats keep popping up in favor of Chubb? There’s one reason and it’s Barkley’s kryptonite. It all comes down to style. I wrote about this prior to the 2018 NFL Draft. The former Penn State product is a lot closer to Reggie Bush than Ezekiel Elliott. You can smirk or disagree all you want but it’s true. Despite having a 235 pound frame, Barkley is more interested in making you miss rather than trucking you. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. I’m just pointing out style.

Nick Chubb Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley should have one goal this offseason. Stop running backward! (Brad Penner/USA TODAY)

There’s no denying that Barkley is a home run hitter. Like any home run hitter, he’s going to strikeout more often. That’s just the game he plays within the game. That’s where Reggie Bush comes in. We all remember the highlights at USC. Bush runs left, stops on a dime cuts right, runs backward, goes right again, and scores. Well, that doesn’t work nearly as often in the NFL where defenders are bigger, stronger, and faster. Like Bush, Barkley goes backward a lot creating negative runs. Sometimes it’s better to take 3 yards instead of -3. Barkley always wants the home run.

Football Outsiders has an interesting statistic called Success Rate. I’ll let them explain it:

“The final statistic is Success Rate. This number represents the player’s consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays. A player with higher DVOA and a low success rate mixes long runs with downs getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. A player with lower DVOA and a high success rate generally gets the yards needed, but doesn’t often get more. Success Rate is further explained here. It is not adjusted for opponent.”

Gus Edwards led the NFL in this stat with a 63 percent success rate. Obviously a really good number. Chubb ranked in the upper tier at 50 percent. Then we have Barkley notched a 41 percent success rate. With players of at least 100 carries on the season, Barkley ranked better than Carlos Hyde, David Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, LeSean McCoy, Isaiah Crowell, and Dion Lewis. Everybody else with more than 100 carries was better than Saquon.

The biggest case Barkley fans can point to is his supporting cast. Sure, Eli Manning is washed. Sure, the offensive line isn’t great by any means. Hell, even Odell Beckham is gone now. What I will say is Barkley’s style doesn’t fit with this team. You’re asking a home run hitter to smack homers with no protection in the lineup. It’s actually a miracle Barkley was as good as he was as a rookie. That also makes me think it’s possible Barkley suffers some regression as defenses key on Barkley more and more.

At the end of the day, Saquon Barkley needs to clean up on his negative runs. 16.2 percent of Barkley’s carries his final two years at Penn State resulted in negative yardage. It’s just who he is. Barkley may have his games where he goes for 200 yards. He will also have his games that he rushes for under 50. That happened in 7 of his 16 games in 2018. When Nick Chubb seized that job in Week 8, he only had one game of under 50 yards.

I think Chubb is just scratching the surface. I hate to use a comparison from another sport but there’s a Paul George feel to this. When Paul George broke his leg, there was a thought that he would never be the same. Slowly but surely, George has come all the way back and is better than ever. Chubb suffered a catastrophic knee injury at Georgia. It was an injury where I never was positive Chubb could be the same guy. This is the same guy who was arguably better than Todd Gurley at Georgia. I’m saying that when Gurley was a Junior and Chubb was a true Freshman. The more time removed from that injury, the better Chubb is going to be. Chubb runs like you want a 230 pound back to run like. He kills people and will continue to kill people.

Barkley has one edge over Chubb. It’s his receiving ability. 91 catches for a back in no joke. Barkley has the upside to be better than Chubb based on that. Then again, that’s assuming Barkley stops running the wrong way. I’m not sure that ever happens. If I had to take a back for the next 8 years, I’ll go with Nick Chubb over Saquon Barkley every single day of the week.