In today's NFL, workhorse backs aren't as common as they used to be and many of the league's best rushing attacks make conspicuous use of at least two talented runners. One of the best examples of this in recent years is the Browns of the past three seasons, with the tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt consistently keeping Cleveland near the top of the rushing charts.
In 2020, Hunt's first full season with the Browns, he added 841 rushing yards to Chubb's team-leading 1,607 and the Browns ranked third in that category. Last year, with Hunt running into some injury problems, it became a three-headed attack with D'Ernest Johnson contributing 500 yards to the mix and the Browns ranking fourth. This year, Chubb has taken a larger share of the load and has 923 yards to Hunt's 346, but Cleveland is once again in the top five in rushing, currently standing fourth with 150.9 yards per game.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to Cleveland to take on this powerful run game on Sunday, which will give them an on-location look at what their own backfield production could look like if rookie third-rounder Rachaad White continues his emergence. White is coming off his first career 100-yard game, as he powered the Bucs' season-high 161-yard ground attack in their Week 10 win over the Seahawks in Munich, gaining 105 yards on 22 totes. Within that effort were the Bucs' two longest runs of the year so far, including a 19-yarder that ended Seattle's last chance of getting the ball back.
Usual starter Leonard Fournette added 14 carries for 57 yards but finished the game on the sideline with a hip pointer. White made his first career start in Germany and he could be in the lead role again in Cleveland if Fournette is out or limited, but he insists he's not focused on who starts and is eager to have Fournette back up to full speed so the Bucs can produce more ground-game results like they got against the Seahawks.
"Obviously there's a lot of teams and you see systems in the league that have two good backs, and they compete and go at it and they both piggyback off of each other," said White. "So that's what we're looking forward to. As well as, I'm pretty sure they'll probably get Ke'Shawn [Vaughn] more involved, as they should. That's how it goes – keep guys fresh and keep defenses on their heels.
White was drafted to a team that had a clear starter in the backfield, and one who had recently signed a new and lucrative multi-year deal to stick around. However, it didn't take him long to emerge as the primary reserve to Fournette and his playing time has gradually increased. That trend could continue. Fournette is a proven producer in the Bucs' offense and obviously a highly trusted player by Tom Brady and the coaches, so there probably isn't going to be a sudden changing of the guard. But White's share of the snaps will likely grow given his recent performance.
"I'm just a big guy on opportunity," said the rookie. "That's kind of what I focus on. When opportunities come, I've just got to make the best of them. That's up to me to make them. I've got a lot of great guys, great people in my corner, my family and my friends and things like that. We all understand that life is about opportunities and eventually everybody is going to get their shot. And when you get your shot it's about what you make out of it."
Even after that 161-yard outing in Germany, the Buccaneers still have the NFL's 32nd-ranked rushing attack, so there is more work to be done. White said the Bucs broke out in that game because everyone was "on the same page" and "in synch with one another," so it's possible that performance is repeatable. Good early-down runs helped the Bucs get in a lot of short third-down situations, leading to a 66.7% conversion rate, which in turn extended drives and created more opportunities for both Fournette and White to run the ball. The play-action game thus had more teeth and Brady had more time to throw the ball in Week 10 than he had in any prevoius outing this year, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
And if the best way to duplicate that performance proves to be continuing with the two-headed attack of Fournette and White, the Bucs will surely go that route. If that leads to significantly more opportunities for the rookie, he plans to be ready.
"I would say I'm very comfortable," said White. "Obviously, my confidence is at an all-time high, but it just comes along with it. It's more your job, doing your job. The coaches put me in a great position, teaching me the game. Tom, a lot of guys [who are] leaders on the team teaching me the game. I just keep learning as I go. Things I can control are my attitude and my effort, and when I play that's what I control."