The Browns and Jaguars struck an honest-to-goodness midseason trade, shaking both the NFL and fantasy football worlds, with Cleveland acquiring Carlos Hyde for a fifth-round pick.
Hyde, of course, is only the first domino to fall in the trade. From a fantasy perspective, this deal affects four backs significantly—Hyde, Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson, and Jaguars back T.J. Yeldon—and tells us a lot about the immediate future of a fifth, the Jags' Leonard Fournette. Let’s take them all individually.
Carlos Hyde: First and foremost, Jacksonville’s new (likely) starting back may not suit up this week. This trade happened around 3:30 ET on Friday, fewer than 48 hours before the Jaguars are scheduled to host the Texans. The chances of Hyde suiting up for his new team aren’t all that great, let alone playing a role that makes him fantasy-relevant in Week 7. That, however, is a small price to pay for Hyde owners, considering the windfall that could be coming their way.
Hyde leaves behind a team where he was clearly going to start losing volume to the rookie Chubb, and had zero receiving upside. He’ll certainly split the backfield with Yeldon, but there shouldn’t be any question about his primacy in Jacksonville, especially after the team went out and traded for him midseason, the way there was about to be in Cleveland.
Hyde also gets an upgrade to his overall offensive environment. First, he’ll now be running behind a Jacksonville line that ranks 10th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, leaving behind Cleveland’s 15th-ranked unit. Football Outsiders ranks Jacksonville’s line 16th in pass protection, while Cleveland’s is near the bottom of the league at 28th. That may not have a huge effect on Hyde, but it speaks to the overall ability of the Jaguars up front, as well as the team’s likelihood of sustaining drives. Remember, too, that Hyde caught 59 passes in San Francisco last year. He can be a threat as a receiver when his team asks him to be one. Additionally, the Jaguars figure to play with more leads than the Browns do, meaning an increase in positive game script for Hyde. The move south is a great one for him.
Nick Chubb: Chubb is likely the biggest winner as a result of this deal. The rookie out of Georgia got essentially no playing time the first six weeks of the season, totaling 16 carries and zero targets with a 7.1% snap rate. He made the most of those touches, though, racking up 173 rushing yards and two scores, both of which came in the same game. Johnson’s carry load will increase, but make no mistake, Chubb will be the primary ball-carrier, even if Johnson serves as the de facto starter in the short term. Through six weeks, Hyde handled 71% of the touches out of Cleveland's backfield, while Johnson netted 19.5%. His touch share may increase to 30% or so, which may not seem like much if you’re just scanning the numbers, but would represent a massive jump of nearly 60% of the team’s backfield touches. It would also, of course, leave 70%, the same touch share previously enjoyed by Hyde, for Chubb.
Teams tell you a lot about how they view a player by the manner in which they acquire them. The Browns signed Hyde in the offseason and already had Johnson on the roster, yet still used the 35th overall pick on Chubb, taking him ahead of Ronald Jones, Kerryon Johnson and Royce Freeman, just to name three other backs in his class. That tells us that this front office and coaching staff are enamored of Chubb, and ready to let him and Baker Mayfield grow alongside one another. If Chubb is still available in any of your leagues as you’re reading this, stop and grab him now. He could be a top-20 back the rest of the way, and should be in your lineup this week.
Duke Johnson: We touched on Johnson already while discussing Chubb, but he deserves is own short section. Little changes for him with Hyde in Jacksonville. Chubb should take over as the primary runner, while Johnson will retain his role as a pass-catching threat. He’ll likely get a handful more carries per game than he was receiving with Hyde on the team, though that may not be enough to move the needle. He projects as part of the weekly flex discussion in PPR leagues, especially through the remainder of the bye-week portion of the schedule. His upside is nowhere near Chubb’s, but he, too, should be owned in all competitive leagues.
T.J. Yeldon: Moving now to Hyde’s new team, Yeldon is the big loser related to this trade. He’s still going to have a role in the offense, but it will be similar to what it was when Leonard Fournette was healthy, if not exactly the same. He’ll serve as a change-of-pace back and play on some obvious passing downs, but his short-lived time as something bordering on a workhorse is over.
Having said that, Hyde is unlikely to play for the Jaguars this week, giving Yeldon one more game in command of Jacksonville’s backfield. Unless you absolutely need him this week, the play here is to try to trade him to someone in your league desperate for some running back value this week. Take a look first at the James Conner owner in your league, considering the Steelers are on a bye. Also take a look at the Fournette, Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook teams. They, too, could be in need of a running back, even knowing he’ll lose much of his value after Week 7 is in the books.
Leonard Fournette: Finally, the fact that the Jaguars were motivated to make this trade says a lot about their erstwhile starter. If we didn’t already think Fournette was an IR candidate, we certainly do now. Don’t cut him until we get official word, but chances are strong that we’ve seen the last of Fournette this year, at least while the fantasy season is still active.