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Value Hunting: Making the case for a Browns' long shot

Justin K. Aller / Getty Images Sport / Getty

We saw how fragile and replaceable the running back position can be on Monday night, that is, if the broadcast had shown a replay of what sounds like the type of injury those who are squeamish wouldn't want to see anyway.

Nick Chubb will require reconstructive knee surgery for the second time in his career. Chubb was one of the most meaningful non-quarterbacks to the point spread. Given the poor play from the Browns' signal-caller, he might be more meaningful to Cleveland than Deshaun Watson.

The Browns lost the divisional matchup in Pittsburgh, so their odds to win the AFC North, the conference, and the Super Bowl would have lengthened anyway. Chubb was the preseason favorite to lead the league in rushing yards and touchdowns. The void he leaves for the remainder of the season creates an opportunity not just for his replacement but perhaps for bettors still willing to believe in Cleveland's offensive infrastructure and strategy.

Filling Nick Chubb's shoes

Josh Jacobs won the rushing title in 2022 with 1,653 yards, a surprising result after it seemed like he had fallen out of favor in Las Vegas. Chubb finished third with 1,525 yards, averaging 5.1 yards on 302 carries. That per-carry average is on the low end for his career, with his bottom being 5.0. Chubbs averaged 6.1 yards per carry through one and a half games, so the Browns' offensive line opened holes for him against two quality defenses in the Bengals and Steelers.

When a star tailback gets hurt, it's usually too late into the season for his replacement to compete with the league in season-long totals. However, thanks to a 16-carry, 106-yard performance in relief of Chubb on Monday, Jerome Ford isn't that far back of the leaders, tied for 10th in the NFL in rushing.

The Browns replaced Chubb on the roster by re-signing Kareem Hunt, who backed up Chubb during his four 1,000-yard seasons. It could be argued the Browns knew what they had in Ford when they opted to leave Hunt as a free agent this offseason. As Kevin Stefanski said, there's a strong possibility that the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Ford - three years younger and with a similar build to Chubb - will be the featured running back.

Can the favorite in the market be caught?

Rushing yards

Christian McCaffrey has a massive early lead on the next-best rusher through two games, 88 yards clear of Bijan Robinson and 126 yards ahead of Ford. However, with 15 games left on the schedule, Ford has to make up just 8.4 yards per contest.

Let's say he fills Chubb's shoes to a tee, matching his 89.7 yards per game last season. McCaffrey could still run for 80 yards per contest the rest of the way and be caught. Looking at last season's awesome production - a stretch that had us backing him for Offensive Player of the Year - McCaffrey averaged 72.8 yards on the ground after his first game.

McCaffrey's been explosive so far, but he's also been heavily used. Kyle Shanahan even mentioned that he needs to ease the workload, as McCaffrey recorded his second and third-most carries since becoming a 49er, including playoffs, in the opening contests. He's also had just eight targets in the passing game this year after averaging 5.9 targets per contest from his second matchup in San Francisco and onward. Even a shift to more usage in the open field - versus having McCaffrey running through the trenches - should alleviate some wear and tear on the Niners star.

Rushing touchdowns

McCaffrey has two rushing touchdowns this season, but the lead is at three, with Anthony Richardson, Raheem Mostert, and Kyren Williams atop the list. None of those three were expected to contend here, with Mostert having the shortest odds at +4000.

From an opportunity standpoint, Chubb had 12 touchdowns last season in his first 11 games. Strangely, he didn't score in the campaign's final six contests, which helped Jamaal Williams push for the league lead in rushing touchdowns. The Browns can provide Ford with the opportunity to score once per game (he came up inches short of one Monday night). If that's the case, he can score 15 times on the ground. That number would put him right in the mix to lead the league. Since no true goal-line horse has a head start, Ford can make up the stagger.

The bet

Jerome Ford to lead the NFL in rushing yards (+2800)
Jerome Ford to lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns (+3300)

Ford spent his early college career in a crowded Alabama running back room. Four other runners there went to the NFL, including Jacobs. Ford transferred to Cincinnati and helped them to the College Football Playoff. He has the pedigree (and relatively fresh legs) to make this result less of a surprise than you might think. With so much time to make up the ground, his odds should be similar to what Chubb's odds would be if he had 142 rushing yards and was healthy. Ford's odds are this long because he's unproven and unfamiliar, which has created value on him compared to many players higher on the oddsboard.

Matt Russell is the lead betting analyst for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on social media @mrussauthentic.

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