Nick Chubb, good on his word, is taking care of unfinished business



It wasn’t the right time.

The thought echoed through Nick Chubb’s head in the days before the Jan. 16 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft. He was tempted to take the next step of life, yet an emotional tug-of-war seemed to be yanking him in an unexpected, even unconventional direction.

The thought wouldn’t let Chubb sleep, instead dominating conversations with his family and friends. Chubb knew running backs have a short shelf life. He knew the millions he’d be turning down if he stayed in school.

"My mindset was also, I need to go out there and get this money while I'm still walking, there's no telling how long my knee may hold up," Chubb said after deciding to return for his senior year at UGA. "So when I thought about that in my head, (I realized), Nick this isn't you, you're not the guy to run from any problems. So instead of run from it face it, face to face."

His financial concerns eventually were dispelled, be it by coach Kirby Smart, Georgia Tech celebrating between the hedges or those same family and friends. Somewhere in that tumultuous time of debate and emotion, Chubb realized he couldn’t leave Georgia just yet.

“It just didn’t feel right,” he said. “I felt like if I needed to leave I’d feel it and be able to accept it and move on. Something kept telling me, Nick, maybe not right now. It’s not the right time.”

Chubb 2017 versus Chubb 2016 is a noticeable difference, scouts have opined. UGA 2017 versus UGA 2016 holds an even greater disparity: from an 8-5 finish to 8-0 and atop the College Football Playoff rankings.

Much of Georgia’s success can be traced to its Chubb-led run game. Before the season, Chubb said it’s “amazing” to see running backs such as Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey go in the top 10 of the draft. He may not go that high, but he’s regained the violent, bruising style that put him on the NFL radar before his gruesome 2015 leg injury.

In 2016, Chubb posted 1,130 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, stats that scouts considered underwhelming, largely because of apparent rust recovering from the injury.

“Chubb was great early, but fell back a bit and wasn’t as big-time and dynamic as you thought he would be,” ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper said last season. “There were a lot of great running backs playing week in and week out, and I think that kind of pushed him down a little bit. He is not in the top 10 of the running back group.”

But this season, Chubb looks much closer to the freshman who ran for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. He leads the SEC with 765 yards, yet still somewhat feels hidden in college football’s shadows while other tailbacks hypnotize the national audience.

"He's much more explosive as an interior and outside rusher," said draft analyst Lance Zierlein, who confessed he may disregard Chubb's 2016 film in his evaluation. "He also looks much lighter on his feet while eluding tackle attempts. Chubb already has as many TD runs as he had in 2016, and he's averaging nearly two yards per carry more than he did last season. It's worth noting that Georgia has been able to limit Chubb to 16 or fewer carries in every game so far this season."

Zierlein’s last point is most important. Georgia’s remarkable stable of tailbacks has allowed it to rely less on Chubb, and in turn put less wear on his tires before going pro. Just last season, Chubb had seven games in which he exceeded 16 rushes.

“I feel great,” Chubb said Wednesday. “I feel better now than I did at the beginning of the season. Just how I’ve been sharing the load, and not playing full games, that also helps. We’re doing a great job of taking care of everybody, I think.”

Chubb will never be accused as someone with too much to say. He’s unfazed by rankings and disregards NFL hype. He doesn’t want the glory his friend Saquon Barkley is receiving at Penn State. He reflects his accomplishments upon his coaches and offensive line.

“I don’t want it. They can keep it,” Chubb said, emphasizing he wants no part of the Heisman Trophy race or individual awards. “If we’re winning like we are, everybody gets the attention. And that’s kind of how I like it.”

Chubb is boosting his draft stock, feeling good physically and most important to him, contributing to what’s become Georgia’s best season in eons. With that combination, the soft-spoken senior doesn’t appear to have any regrets.

“This is the moment we all came back for,” Chubb said.

Maybe it was the impending “this moment” that was fending off the NFL in January. And the Bulldogs are sure glad it did.