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Spotlight: Jamaal Charles

posted by Chris Smith on Jul 16th

Chris Smith's thoughts

Last season, Jamaal Charles was a first round pick in fantasy circles, coming off of a special 2010 season in which he finished as the 4th best fantasy running back. The explosive Charles went down with an ACL-tear in week two against the Detroit Lions, having touched the ball only seventeen times on the year. As a result, the majority of the 2011 season was lost and now he is battling hard to return stronger and faster than he was prior to suffering the injury.

By all accounts, Charles has had a successful rehabilitation. He insists he is as fast as he was prior to the injury and states he wants to come back stronger and more durable and believes the injury will be behind him by the beginning of the season.

Below is a blurb from our Charles news page from June 14th:

Chiefs | Jamaal Charles says he could play today Thu Jun 14, 01:21 AM Kansas City Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (knee) all but guaranteed Wednesday, June 13, that he would be cleared to participate when training camp begins next month. 'I'm ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way,' Charles said. He said he felt so strong that he could play in a game today. Charles is scheduled to be examined by team doctors June 18, and he will either be cleared to participate or camp or not cleared.

Our view: Charles was a top five overall pick in fantasy drafts last year. This year, he's available in the second round. He could be a value pick if he plays at his previous level, but that will be difficult for a player who relies so much on his speed and explosiveness.

Prior to his injury, Charles showcased the elite speed and quickness that gave defenses nightmares on game day. He has the ability to stop on a dime and head off in a different direction without sacrificing speed and few players are blessed with that skill. It remains to be seen whether he will still have that explosive burst when he returns to the field this season.


1) Return from injury and knee is 100% healthy: By all accounts it appears that Charles has successful rehabilitated his knee and that he will be 100% and ready to go by the start of the season. However it is a caveat to be aware of because running fast on a track in recovering from injury and making cuts on the field to make 300-pound men miss tackles is not exactly a parallel discussion.

2) Continue to get lots of production from limited, monitored touches: Even in his successful 2010 campaign, Charles had his carries and total touches monitored. He is not a big running back and the team wishes to keep him fresh throughout the year. Going along with that thought was the addition of big, bruising running back Peyton Hillis this season who will split carries with Charles in 2012 and likely get the goal line work going forward. Charles averaged an impressive 6.4 yards per carry in 2010 and that isn't a blip on the screen as his career average is a strong 6.1 thanks to his explosive ability to break off big runs at any moment. Charles is also an accomplished receiver and had two straight 40+ reception seasons.

3) Offensive line comes together and plays like elite unit: There is a lot to like about the Chiefs offensive line going forward but there may be a transitional period in 2012. There may be three new starters this season at center, left guard and right tackle and while those changes likely improve the overall talent, offensive line play is about cohesion, trust and teamwork and that could take time to come together. However one of those additions, Eric Winston at right tackle, greatly enhances this line if he is healthy and ready to go.

4) Touchdown production stays at least the same despite the presence of Hillis: Charles is likely never going to be a 12+ touchdown producer unless he has a season in which he breaks off a number of long touchdowns. With a big, proven veteran running back to draw on, the Chiefs will likely pull Charles out inside the five-yard line and use the bruiser instead, limiting Charles fantasy worth. Due to the yardage Charles can rack up via the rushing and receiving numbers, he doesn't need as many touchdowns as some of the NFL running backs to put up big fantasy numbers but touchdown fantasy points add up in a hurry and turn good fantasy weeks into great fantasy weeks.

5) Quarterbacking play improves: Last year, Matt Cassel broke his throwing hand in the 9th game. However he was struggling even prior to that injury with 9 interceptions and 5 fumbles in those games. If Cassel can return to his strong 2010 play in which he tossed 27 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, defenses will be forced to respect the passing game and as a result, lanes will open up in the defense for Jamaal Charles to exploit. If the passing game looks like it did last year, defenses will cheat up and it will be more challenging for the rushing attack to get unleashed.

6) Continued strong play from defense: A great rushing attack goes hand in hand with a strong defensive team as offenses have more freedom to go conservative and allow a running game and defense to win the football game. If the Chiefs defense plays well again this year, the team will likely finish with close to 500 team carries and that would be good news for both Charles and Hillis.

7) Sharing touches nothing new for Charles: Some owners are worried about the addition of Hillis to the offense but Charles has always shared the backfield touches and still had consecutive top-12 fantasy seasons in 2009 and 2010. His ability to do more with less will always give strong fantasy value if his health is back to normal.


  • Elite blend of quickness, speed, cutting ability and vision
  • Strong receiving skills
  • Potentially a strong offensive line to run behind and Hillis will gain the tough inside yards, leaving Charles fresh


  • Sharing touches in backfield means that Charles must make the most out of his limited touches
  • Offensive line may suffer through some transitional issues in 2012 with up to three new starters
  • Charles is coming off of a torn ACL injury and only game time action will prove he is 100% returned from the injury

Final thoughts

Jamaal Charles is a wonderful talent at running back and he does more with limited touches than any other running back in the NFL today. He has the ability to take the ball and create a large gain out of nothing as well as anybody we have seen in the NFL since Barry Sanders. Do not be overly concerned with his sharing the backfield with Peyton Hillis. Charles has shared the backfield since entering the NFL and only averaged 210 carries in his two big fantasy seasons. If his knee is completely recovered, expect similar numbers to his 2010 totals although he will be hard pressed to average 6.3 yards per carry and over 10 yards per catch. He has good value for a mid-second round selection which is where he has been going.

Quotations from the message board thread

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

TheDirtyWord said:

Of all the topline RB's that you'll be selecting from in 2012, Charles is the one that will come with by far, the most questions...or at least the most doubt.

The most frustrating thing about being a Charles owner in 2010 was his usage pattern. Emerging as the most explosive RB in the NFL with a 6.4 YPC...Charles only tallied 230 carries while sharing the role with Thomas Jones who also was the primary inside the 5 threat. Despite the notion that he could have been more frequently utilized, Charles still went for a 1935/8 line. Exit Todd Haley; enter Romeo Crennel. Exit Thomas Jones, enter Peyton Hillis. Will anything change? Will it perhaps change for the worse. An argument could easily be made that Hillis is a better, more effective complimentary talent to Charles than Jones. In the passing game particularly - Jones was close to useless with only 19 receptions that last two seasons. Hillis on the other hand showed himself to be more than capable in this area in 2010. So the workload division could potentially be even more muddled and frustrating than it had been in 2010 when Charles was going off. Add in the fact that Charles is coming off an ACL tear and I find it difficult to believe that any owner would be relying on Charles to be their RB1.

With that said, Charles is a special talent. In 2010, of his 230 rushes...45 (or close to 1 out of every 5) went for 10+ yards. He was perhaps the pre-eminent breakaway threat in the NFL prior to his knee injury. But in FF, can you count on a guy to duplicate a 6.4 YPC coming off an ACL tear. While Charles' knee injury came on a freak bolstered the notion that Charles' workload did in fact need managing and the Chiefs were deadset on making sure they had a strong compliment to him. So between Charles and Hillis, I see a complete RBBC situation emerging here. And with Hillis looking to re-establish his NFL street cred after what could only be termed as one of the most bizarre contract pushes in NFL history, I think those people gambling that Charles will return to 2010 form will be disappointed. While he'll still produce big plays from time to time, what set Charles apart in 2010 was his consistency at producing great situations for his offense on 1st & 10 where he put up the following line; 99/715/1 for a 7.2 YPC.

Matt Cassel is a game managing QB. He was most effective as a counter punch option when the Chiefs established a rushing attack that between Jones/Charles, ran the ball 30+ times/game. With a more diverse and spry compliment in Hillis, the notion that Charles will be used more randomly has merit (for instance on 3rd downs...with Hillis in the fold, Charles. And even if he approaches his 2010 workload, 6.4 YPC's simply can't be counted on, no matter what type of talent is being discussed. So IMO, I don't think his 2012 upside is near was his 2010 production level was.

Coeur de Lion said:

Pre-injury Charles was one of the most explosive RBs in NFL history - the guy has a 6.1 YPC average for his career, so it's not like his 6.4 in 2010 was a fluke. I don't see Hillis having any effect on Charles at all, personally; Jamaal was never going to be a 20 carry/game guy regardless. He wasn't going to be getting a ton of goal-line work either, no matter who else is or isn't there. Even if he hadn't blown out his knee last year I wouldn't be projecting more than about 240 carries for the guy, and with the injury, I think he'll see fewer than that (15 / week) particularly to start the year. Dynasty-wise, I'm a buyer, as his talent level is through the roof, but in redrafts this year, someone else can take the risk while I grab Hillis quite a bit later.

wdcrob said:

There is exactly one (former) head coach in the NFL who would give a player like Peyton Jones, I mean Thomas Hillis, carries at the expense of a thoroughbred like Charles. Now that Haley is busy trying to screw with Roethlisberger's head in Pittsburgh I don't see any reason Charles won't put up great numbers again. The injury will be nearly a year old by the time the season starts and Charles is a player who wins games for his team. I do think Hillis will eat into his receptions a bit though -- Hillis is an excellent receiver in space and will get some looks in addition to short yardage stuff.

FF Ninja said:

I'm going to have to turn this into a joint post because, much like the Martin/Blount situation, I think the more valuable RB is being overlooked here. The Chiefs are a team built to run, and run they did with Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles in 2010, splitting 475 carries between just the two of them. In 2011, injuries struck both Hillis and Charles. While Hillis' injury was not season ending, it did linger on throughout the season leading many to label him a quitter, a plodder, a bust, etc. I can see the Shark Pool is not immune to this shortsightedness, with a previous comment referring to him as Peyton Jones. In 2010, Hillis was the 12th most elusive back in the NFL, but he was one of the least in 2011 while dealing with injuries on an imploding Cleveland Browns. He is now fully recovered and reunited with his 2010 offensive coordinator. While Thomas Jones was ineffective as a rusher, he was also a non-factor in the passing game. Hillis has already shown to be an excellent receiving back, as well as a total beast around the goal line. Padding his resume, Hillis is an excellent pass blocker (sorry, I don't know how Charles stacks up there).

Jamaal Charles on the other hand had previously been given the bulk of the receptions while tearing up his half of the rushes at over a 6 ypc clip. Even if his speed is fully recovered, the Chiefs have little reason to saddle him with 20 carries a game or goal line duties. In all likelihood, the Chiefs will lean on Hillis to plug away between the tackles while utilizing Charles as a relatively frequently used change of pace back. But they both should see passes thrown their way.

Jamaal Charles projections

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