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Second-Year Scouting Report: Chuba Hubbard

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After several weeks of articles, we have finally reached the end of our second-year spotlights here at FTN. What better way to wrap up the series with everyone’s favorite 2021 rookie running back… Chuba Hubbard.

 

Let’s take a look at how Hubbard’s debut season went, and what we can look for out of him in the future.

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Carolina Panthers

Through two seasons at Oklahoma State, Hubbard looked destined for stardom and worthy of consideration as an early pick in the NFL draft. He established himself as an explosive playmaker during his freshman season, putting together a solid campaign of 124 carries for 740 yards and seven rushing touchdowns along with 22 receptions for 229 yards and two receiving touchdowns (6.6 yards per touch). He followed that up in 2019 by putting together one of the best seasons of any player in college football. Hubbard was the centerpiece of Cowboys’ offense, carrying the ball 328 times for 2,094 yards and 21 touchdowns. He continued to modestly contribute as a receiver as well, catching 23 passes for 198 yards. It seemed like a lock that Hubbard would be an early-round draft pick once he was draft eligible.

Unfortunately, a series of injuries limited Hubbard in his pandemic-shortened junior season. Hubbard played in just seven games, carrying the ball 133 times for 625 yards and five touchdowns. He also added eight receptions for 52 yards and a receiving touchdown. He averaged almost two fewer yards per touch (4.8) than any other season in his college career. The pre-draft process essentially saw him as a home run threat runner with questionable vision and receiving ability. When the dust settled, Hubbard fell to the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, where he was taken by the Carolina Panthers.

 

What Went Right?

The best thing that happened for Chuba Hubbard in his rookie season was the fact that Christian McCaffery once again got injured. McCaffery initially suffered a hamstring injury in Week 3 against the Houston Texans. That allowed Hubbard to take over the backfield and have some fantasy relevance. From Weeks 3 to 8, Hubbard registered at least a 53% snap share in every game. During that stretch, he averaged 16.7 carries, 3.8 targets, 2.7 receptions and 82.7 all-purpose yards per game while scoring two rushing touchdowns. It wasn’t stellar production, but the rookie showed that he could have a role at the NFL level.

McCaffrey would eventually return from that injury only to get hurt again. Unfortunately for Hubbard, he would not have the same impact again later.

Chuba Hubbard 2022 Fantasy Football Second-Year Scouting Report

What Went Wrong?

In short, a lot.

Sam Darnold started the season well but fell off quickly and was knocked out with an injury. That forced the team to sign Cam Newton to play quarterback. The threat of Newton’s rushing ability opened up solid running lanes for the backfield, but ultimately cost Hubbard red zone and goal line opportunities, which capped his upside. When Darnold was eventually reinstated as the starting quarterback, he struggled to throw the ball once again. When all was said and done, the combination of Darnold, Newton and Philip Walker combined to throw just 14 touchdowns with 21 interceptions.

A lot of Hubbard’s flaws in college also showed up in the NFL. Hubbard was a home run threat but failed to consistently string together positive gains on inside runs. Hubbard only averaged 3.6 yards per carry and was so inconsistent in his first stint as a runner that the team acquired both Ameer Abdullah and Royce Freeman during the season to add depth. When McCaffrey went down with a second injury in Week 12, the Panthers went into a three-headed back approach. From Weeks 12 to 18, Hubbard averaged just 8.7 carries, 1.5 targets and 35.5 all-purpose yards as he situationally rotated with Abdullah and Freeman. Hubbard’s inconsistent hands were also a consistent problem throughout the season as shown by his 67.6% catch rate despite running mostly short routes out of the backfield.

Hubbard flashed NFL-level ability in his rookie season considering he was a Day 3 pick but his obsession with hitting big plays ultimately forced the Panthers to bring in more consistent options that cut into his work.

2022 Outlook

There isn’t much reason to believe Hubbard will have a massive impact heading into his second season with the Panthers. McCaffery is back to full strength and is going as a top-two pick in fantasy drafts. If he can stay healthy, he will once again dominate the backfield. While the Panthers let both Adbullah and Freeman walk in free agency, they added a much more formidable runner in the form of D’Onta Foreman after he had a solid year for the Titans when Derrick Henry got injured. The veteran running back averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns on just 133 rushing attempts and looked pretty good after an Achilles injury early in his career.

If McCaffrey were to get injured again, Foreman would likely become the team’s lead running back on early downs. Hubbard could get change-of-pace work or receiving work as a third-down back, but his iffy pass-catching abilities make it hard to believe that would be a role he can hold on to.

 

Dynasty Outlook

Hubbard’s dynasty value is a bit trickier. On one hand, he had five games with at least 50 rushing yards and was productive during his limited stretch as the team’s only running back early in the season. On the other hand, the current regime has actively worked to have an alternative to him twice now (both during the season in 2021 and this offseason) and has seen enough to believe that he can’t be trusted with a full workload as a rusher. If the Panthers clean house this offseason, it is highly likely that a new GM and coaching staff won’t care much about a former day three pick from the old regime and will work to get their guys in the backfield.

The upside of a former 2,000-yard rusher in college is tantalizing and Hubbard has game-breaking speed that you can’t teach. However, at this point, he isn’t worth much more than a trade throw-in if you’re looking to acquire him and isn’t a high-value asset to have on your team if you drafted him before his rookie year. He’s got as much of a chance of being a long-term roster clogger as he does being a consistent fantasy asset in dynasty formats.

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