The similarities Nick Chubb shares with former Georgia running back Todd Gurley are evident. Both went to Georgia, both are incredibly talented running backs who can make even the best defenders look silly with their ability to force missed tackles and now, like Gurley, Chubb is facing a comeback from a horrific knee injury.
The moment Chubb's injury happened, the idea that his football playing career could be over wasn't a ridiculous one. Here we are though, less than four months from the start of the 2016 college football season, and the question isn't if he'll be back — but rather whether or not he'll be ready to go for the season opener. That's huge, both for Chubb and the Georgia offense because when he's fully healthy, Chubb deserves his place in the conversation among the best running backs in the nation.
Chubb got his first big opportunity when Gurley went down injured during the 2014 season. Taking full advantage, he wowed everyone, finishing the year as our sixth-highest-graded running back despite playing just 407 snaps. So tough for defenders to bring down, he forced 63 missed tackles on 219 carries as a freshman. Adding another six on 18 receptions, and averaging 3.73 yards after contact per carry, Chubb had the sixth-best elusive rating in the nation. Not bad for a freshman.
Despite his big opportunity coming after Gurley went down, there were definitely flashes from Chubb before then as well. In the season opener against Clemson he got just four carries. On those four carries he forced eight missed tackles, picked up 70 yards (with 64 of them coming after contact) and scored a touchdown. That touchdown included three forced missed tackles. Not a bad way to make an impact early in your career.
That first season made a big impression on everyone, and the college football world expected big things from him in his second year. And before Chubb went down to that horrific injury, he was delivering. He carried the ball 92 times for 744 yards, averaging 8.1 yards per carry and forcing 23 missed tackles. He rushed for 120 yards in every game, despite seeing 20 carries or more just twice, once again showcasing his ability to create the big play, with 14 of his 92 carries going for 15 or more yards.
What's important to note about Chubb is that while he can be a big-play threat create something from nothing, he's also a very consistent running back from down to down. While he had plenty of 15-plus yard gains, they accounted for just 57.5 percent of his rushing yards, so even when he wasn't breaking the big play, he was able to churn out the yards the Georgia offense needed.
That's huge when you consider that the starting quarterback competition likely comes down to Greyson Lambert, who was up and down a year ago, and true freshman Jacob Eason. The Georgia offense is more than likely going to rely heavily on the running game at times. If it is Eason — who Georgia fans are salivating at the prospect of — then you need only look at UCLA's Josh Rosen as an example. Rosen was fantastic as a freshman, but had moments where he struggled. That's almost a given for any freshman, so even if Eason is as good as advertised, the Bulldogs need to supplement with a strong run game.
What if Chubb isn't ready for the opener?
There is some concern that Chubb may not be ready for the season opener against North Carolina. That won't be an easy game for the Bulldogs, with the Tar Heels good enough to make the ACC Championship game a year ago. Thankfully they aren't entirely reliant on Chubb, as Sony Michel is available to step up and fill in. Michel wasn't as consistent as Chubb from snap to snap, but did show several impressive flashes to get people excited.
Take the game against Kentucky as an example. Michel carried the ball 24 times for 165 yards, forcing nine missed tackles and scoring a touchdown. It was the second time in 2015 where he forced nine missed tackles as a runner in a single game, a feat that Todd Gurley managed once in 2014, and Chubb has failed to achieve in either of the past two seasons. Over the course of the year Michel forced 48 missed tackles on 219 carries, adding another 15 on just 26 receptions. With an average of 3.31 yards after contact per carry, that gave him an elusive rating of 85.1, tied for 23rd in the nation. Georgia has been spoiled by elusive running backs in recent years, with all three of Gurley, Chubb and Michel capable of juking a defender out of their cleats.
Whether or not Chubb can make it back for Week 1 is the first question, but regardless the Georgia offense will rely on its run game once again. And if Chub is 100 percent ready for the season opener, he brings along the type of game-changing ability as a runner to make the Bulldogs a contender in the SEC.