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Spotlight: Jamaal Charles

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 15th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Who is Todd Haley trying to fool? I had to chuckle when I saw that the Chiefs initial 2011 depth chart listed Jamaal Charles as the 2nd string running back behind Thomas Jones. If that sounds familiar, it's because Haley did the same thing LAST year. In 2010, even though we all saw the move as a farce, it was understandable at the margin because some felt Haley was merely paying respect to the elder veteran (Jones) and making sure Charles didn't let his ego get out of control. Fine, he made a point - but to do it again this year?

Is there anyone on the planet that doesn't view Charles as not only the #1 running back in Kansas City, but also the best player on the roster? All due respect to the likes of WR Dwayne Bowe and S Eric Berry, Charles is the franchise cornerstone and the guy most likely to have a puncher's chance at Canton someday.

This time last year, a debate raged over whether Charles could become more of a full-time player. The Chiefs signing of Thomas Jones - who was 2nd in the AFC in rushing the year before (2009), had a lot of people thinking the Chiefs were determined to keep Charles as the change of pace back, in spite of evidence that his skills warranted more opportunity. Yet, as we all know, that "analysis" was highly flawed:

  • 230 carries (career high)
  • 1,467 yards rushing (career high)
  • 6.4 yards per rush (career high)
  • 45 receptions (career high)
  • 468 yards receiving (career high)
  • 3 receiving TDs (career high)
  • 242 fantasy points (career high)
  • #4 ranked fantasy RB (career high)

Charles' dynamic production played a key role in the Chiefs surprising 10-6 finish and AFC West title. The Chiefs led the league in attempts (556) and yards (2,627), and the KC brass recognized Charles' value by signing him to a long-term extension in December (6-year, $28mm with $10mm guaranteed). With a long-term financial commitment, and fresh of his first All Pro season, the table is set for Charles to finally be recognized by NFL fans for the rare talent we fantasy owners have known him to be for the last few seasons.

Putting his YPR in perspective
Charles averaged 6.4 yards per rush last year, which needless to say was unexpected. Even though Charles had averaged 5.3 and 5.9 yards per rush in his prior two seasons, few would've thought he could INCREASE his per carry average with a larger workload. For those wondering, Charles' 6.38 yards per rush was the 2nd best by a 1,000-yard rusher in league history:

Best Yards-per-Rush by a 1,000-Yard Rusher (NFL History)

Rank First Last Year Rush Yds YPR
1 Jim Brown 1963 291 1863 6.40
2 Jamaal Charles 2010 230 1467 6.38
3 Barry Sanders 1997 335 2053 6.13
4 O.J. Simpson 1973 332 2003 6.03
5 Jamaal Charles 2009 190 1120 5.89
6 Jim Brown 1960 215 1257 5.85
7 John David Crow 1960 183 1071 5.85
8 Paul Lowe 1963 177 1010 5.71
9 Barry Sanders 1994 331 1883 5.69
10 Adrian Peterson 2007 238 1341 5.63

There are two points to be made here:

  • Any time you trail only Jim Brown in a statistical achievement, it's noteworthy
  • Charles ranks 2nd AND 5th on this list, that's astonishing

Is the YPR sustainable?
Regression to the mean is a real phenomenon, and so it's fair to ask what to make of Charles otherworldly YPR. Let's be honest - it's highly unlikely he'll come close to matching that number in 2011, or ever again. But to focus on that as a reason to avoid drafting him makes no sense. Regression to the mean is a factor for ALL top fantasy players in ALL metrics. A back that gets 300 carries is "likely to regress" the following year. A WR that catches 10+ TDs is "likely to regress" the following year. A QB that takes 100% of the team's snaps is "likely to regress" in Year N+1. It's a truism, that if you carry too far means you effectively can justify EVERY player regressing across the board. But we know that the real NFL doesn't work that way. For every player that regresses, other players improve. And even if Charles isn't going to average 6 yards a carry, doesn't mean he can't have an even better season if his other metrics turn higher.

Ways Jamaal Charles can improve

  • More missed tackles - Charles was only 19th among RBs with 25 missed tackles
  • More carries - Charles had 230 carries, but had 7 games with 12 or fewer totes
  • More snaps - Charles only played 53% of the team's snaps last year
  • More long touchdowns - Charles only scored 2 touchdowns from outside the 10-yard line last year, a strange phenomenon for a guy known for big plays
  • More short yardage opportunities - Charles received 13 goal-line carries last year, and scored 4 times as compared to Thomas Jones, who received 25 goal-line carries, and scored 5 times. Do the math; Charles is better than the Chiefs "short yardage specialist."

A Few Other Talking Points

Don't let anyone say that Charles can't "handle" a full workload - I've heard a lot of people mistakenly proclaim that Charles doesn't get more than 10-12 carries sometimes because he's not equipped to handle a heavier workload. Yet, that argument is a falsehood easily disproved by digging deeper into the box scores.

  • First 10 carries per game = 6.16 yards per carry
  • Carries 11+ = 6.92 yards per carry

Most NFL running backs (even the power backs we think of as 20+ carry studs) show some drop off in their per carry average as the workload increases, and yet Charles went from stellar (6.2) to out-of-his-mind (6.9) when he got a heavier workload. He can, and should, get more rushing attempts this year. By comparison, Thomas Jones averaged 3.8 yards on carries 11+ last year.

The Loss of Charlie Weis is the biggest red flag - Charlie Weis was one and done in Kansas City, and that's a potential fly in the Chiefs ointment - unless you really think Bill Muir is going to be as dynamic a play-caller or able to better exploit mismatches the way Weis could. I take some solace in the fact Charles was effective in 2009 prior to Weis coming aboard, but there's no question that Matt Cassel, Dwayne Bowe and Charles all enjoyed career years with Weis at the helm, and now he's back in the college ranks. Weis' departure is the one thing keeping me from arguing that Charles should be considered for THE top spot in your fantasy rankings - and if the dust settles on the 2011 season and Charles disappointed, I guarantee the #1 reason will be the change in offensive coordinators.

Positives

  • Charles is the best pure runner in football, and anyone that doubts that hasn't looked at what he's done in three seasons. He's not just a speed back, but generates tons of yards after contact, runs hard inside, and gets better the more carries he gets in a game
  • Scott Pioli has done a nice job rebuilding the Chiefs offensive line, and Todd Haley will remain committed to a balanced run/pass ratio no matter who calls the plays
  • Thomas Jones clearly lost a step as the season wore on last year, and SHOULD (I emphasize SHOULD) see a reduced role in favor of Charles. Either way, both should benefit form the addition of bruising FB Le'Ron McClain

Negatives

  • Charlie Weis took the Chiefs QB, top WR and top RB to career years simultaneously, so to think Bill Muir will be able to replicate last season's totals is foolhardy
  • In spite of the obvious metrics to the contrary, Todd Haley seems committed to giving Thomas Jones 200+ carries; which partially comes at Charles' expense
  • The Chiefs schedule was unbelievably favorable last year, and that allowed for QB Matt Cassel to look better than he actually is -- a regression this year could mean tougher sledding for the ground game as defenses key on stopping Charles (and his running mates)

Final thoughts

There are very few running backs that have a legitimate shot at 2,000 yards rushing, even under the best circumstances. Charles is on that short list, simply because he has gifts that allow him to make something out of nothing. Anyone that mischaracterizes him as a speedy outside runner hasn't watched the film. Charles is fast, sure, but he also was among the league leaders in big plays, was almost never tackled for a loss, and racked up a ton of yards after initial contact. He's also a terrific receiver, as if his rushing prowess wasn't enough. I can make the case for two or three other RBs being "safer" at the top of the draft, but not many. I would be giddy if I had the opportunity to draft Charles and wouldn't hesitate to build around him even if I'm picking in the Top 5.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

MrTwo94 said:

Call me crazy, but I have a really hard time projecting a player for 250+ carries AND 5.0+ ypc. Priest Holmes only did it once during his awesome stretch. LT did it twice. I know this guy put up a ridiculous 6.4 ypc last year and 5.9 ypc the year before, but these things have a way of returning to the norm. For instance, Baltimore's offense remained the same from '09 to '10 with the exception of the addition of Boldin, yet Ray Rice dropped from 5.3 ypc to 4.0 ypc. Charles is about to lose his OC and I think we can all agree that the Chiefs as a team overperformed last year. The writing is on the wall for a reality check, but if he's being hyped as the possible successor to Arian Foster then I suspect the reality check will fall on deaf ears. I'll admit I was skeptical of Charles last year bc his '09 yardage came against terrible defenses. This year I expect the loss of his OC and the addition of a tougher schedule will drop his ypc below 5. That's not to say he can't still have a great year, I just think it will take a solid workload for him to finish near his ADP. If the Chiefs don't bring in a FA RB, then they'd be crazy to continue to favor T.Jones over Charles. My projections will be based on the status quo, but if another RB is brought in then I'd take a chunk out of my carries for Charles.

rzrback77 said:

The Chiefs had an unbelievable schedule a year ago and squeaked into the playoffs where they were promptly punked out by the Ravens. This year without their OC and with a more difficult schedule, the whole deal comes unraveled.

I agree that Jamaal Charles is a wondrous athlete, but has been historically limited because of few opportunities. It seems like most everyone in this thread thinks that his career is transformed in 2011 and he instantly becomes a bell-cow back. I just don't think that his team's situation or his coach will accomodate this massive increase in carriers that most predict.

The Chiefs in 2010 had 475 passing plays (not counting sacks) and 554 runs, decidedly run heavy. This was in part due to their success on the ground and partly because they were frequently ahead. The year before, they had 535 passes and only 435 runs. I think that their drafting of Baldwin, as well as having another year in the pros for McCluster and Moeaki lends them to a more balanced attack. I also think that the believe and likely correctly that Charles is much better in small doses. Even last year with his remarkable performance, he only had six games with over 15 carries and three with over 20 carries.

mjr said:

Pretty much any coaching staff in the NFL today will prevent a back from getting 320+ touches due to break downs and compromised effectiveness. That's why RBBCs are the norm. KC witnessed first hand what happens to a good back when you overload them with touches like that (Larry Johnson ring a bell?). I don't think it's a knock on JC like you're making it out to be. It's just common sense these days that you've got to split the load up between backs if you want more than 2 seasons out of your best player.

As for the coaching change a few have mentioned previously (with Weis leaving), I don't think it's going to be that much of an impact on Charles' performance in '11. Charles is the best offensive player on that team hands down. If you're the new coordinator coming in, you game plan around that talent, which is your strength. You don't force your best player to adapt to something that doesn't favor his skills. At least I should hope not.

Badgers Fan said:

It seems that the consensus is that people LOVE Charles and he could be the #1 player. I am no different. I will just bring up a few points.

1. Charlie Weis is gone, and I think that along with a Matt Cassel regression bring the offense down a notch.

2. The Chiefs took advantage of bad defenses that were beat up when they faced them. This year their schedule isn't that hard, however it is to note for those in the stretch run and playoff his schedule doesn't do him any favors- weeks 11-15- @pats, vs steelers, @ bears, @ jets, vs packers. A bunch of cold weather games and teams that could take the Chiefs out of the game early, so Charles would probably be doing his work in the receiving game for that stretch.

I do not put it past him to be a monster all season including that stretch, but I'm just playing devil's advocate. I would not take him over Foster or AP, but at 3 or any lower I would probably take him just based on his RIDICULOUS upside.

250 carries x 5.5 ypc = 1375 rush yards. 48 rec x 8.8 ypc= 422 rec yards. 9 total tds.

I do think he can do better in both yard categories, but I think the 7-10 range is what his td's will be. His upside is probably well over 2000 total yards, but I think the td's will keep him from being the #1 or even the #2 overall player that many predict. He'll probably finish in the 3-8 range imo.


Jamaal Charles projections

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