Campfire Chat: What's Going to Happen in the Kansas City Backfield?

The Footballguys staff hangs out and discusses what's going on in Kansas City

Gone are the days Jamaal Charles when turned in elite fantasy numbers in Kansas City like clockwork. Without his presence, there is a bit of uncertainty surrounding the Chiefs backfield. Spencer Ware seems to have a good hold on the starting job, but there is a lot of love for the rookie Kareem Hunt. Do Charcandrick West and C.J. Spiller have roles? How will this situation shake out?

Chad Parsons: Like with many running back depth charts with a mid-round rookie added to the mix, I am buying the incumbent veteran in redraft formats. While not the biggest Spencer Ware fan innately, he is the leader in the clubhouse and has prototypical size, while Kareem Hunt is a 'tweener' in terms of build. Charcandrick West is the baseline NFL roster talent who can step into a bigger role occasionally, but not for long. C.J. Spiller is still living off his single big year with more rebound chances as he closes his career.

Ware and Hunt are only a couple rounds apart in ADP (about 10 positional rank spots) and I would rather have Ware of the two considering his three-down skills and Hunt being a Round 3 pick. Historically, only 21% of Round 3 running backs have produced five or more games of 50+ rushing yards as a rookie. 58% produced two games or less of said 50+ yards.

Jason Wood: I agree with Chad on this one. Ware isn't without risk, but who is a sure thing at the running back position beyond the top half dozen?

Let's acknowledge Ware's limitations. He faded badly last year:

  • Five 5 games -- 42 snaps / 5.3 yards per rush / 83 rush yards / 46 receiving yards
  • Next 5 games -- 37 snaps / 4.1 yards per rush / 58 rush yards / 28 receiving yards
  • Final 4 games -- 38 snaps / 3.3 yards per rush / 54 rush yards / 19 receiving yards

He also lost three fumbles and had the 2nd worst goal-line conversion rate (27%) of any running back with 10 or more carries. In other words, he's far from a complete stud.

On the other hand, Hunt's college tape doesn't hint at greatness, either. In that case, I think tie goes to the incumbent.

Ryan Hester: As mentioned, Hunt has many fantasy owners excited. But it's easy to be fired up about a rookie before he ever straps on his pads. More often than not, however, the learning curve is steep. And unless the team drafted the rookie to specifically fill a hole and produce right away, they are rarely called upon to do so. Most first-year players slated for large roles right out of the gate are picked in the first or second round (Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette being the most recent examples at running back).

Whether it's due to injury, due to his own merits, or maybe even due to the team having a poor showing and looking to the future, Hunt may have a role at some point this season. But based on what we know today, the gap between his draft price and Ware's should be larger. Ware will get the initial chances. Sure, he could lose his role, but that risk is already priced in. Whether you're a "Zero RB" believer looking for early-season touches or someone looking for depth at a position you've hammered early in the draft, he's a nice selection at his current price.

While Hunt is the shiny new toy in town, Ware is still the most talented player in this position group. That's what fantasy owners need to consider when evaluating this situation.

Andy Hicks: This is a situation where it is interesting to look at a coaches history at using the position, especially in the draft. Andy Reid clearly doesn't like using a first round pick on a running back and is reluctant to use a 2nd rounder on them either. Since 1999 when he became head coach of the Eagle he has done the following:

Davis and Tony Hunt were bigger backs that really didn't contribute much throughout their careers, although Davis was given a failed extended run during a Jamaal Charles injury affected season.

Moats, Westbrook, McCoy and Kareem Hunt are all similar sizes and while Moats wasn't that productive, Westbrook and McCoy were clearly home runs, especially considering their draft slots.

Where it gets interesting, considering Kareem Hunt, is both McCoy and Westbrook were used sparingly in their rookie seasons. McCoy was probably used more than Reid would have liked due to Westbrook being at the end of his shelf life and suffering injuries.

Obviously these kind of backs need a bit of work and preparation and while we might see Hunt used this season, I would expect Spencer Ware to be the dominant back and maybe even Charcandrick West to be the backup depending on the progress of Hunt. I would be more than comfortable using Ware as an RB2 this year, but in dynasty leagues I would be trying to prise Kareem Hunt during the season after he doesn't get a large early workload.

Justin Howe: Jason nailed it, that Ware really isn't much of a running back. Not in a fantasy-priority sense, anyway; he's far from entrenched. He's a middling athlete - 35th percentile SPARQ in 2013, according to Player Profiler - and wasn't productive at LSU. As a ho-hum runner with fumble, efficiency, and concussion issues, he could wind up fully touchdown-dependent in 2017 and an afterthought beyond.

This is an awfully juicy fantasy spot, of course. Dating back to 2015, Kansas City lead backs have consistently churned out top-level weeks - 19 weeks producing a RB2, and 15 of them with a RB1. It's a sexy enough fantasy spot to warrant attention, but buying the priciest guy (Ware) looks ill-advised. Hunt, of course, comes three rounds later - not much of a discount but notable - and Charcandrick West comes at only opportunity cost.

Chris Feery: I think Ryan nailed it: Ware is the most talented back in the group until proven otherwise. There’s plenty to get excited about with Hunt on a long-term basis, but let’s tap the brakes and not let that enthusiasm cause us to overdraft him this season. He could carve out a decent sized role as the season moves along, but he could also spend a lot of time watching the offense from the sidelines. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation throughout the preseason to see if anything changes, but as of right now, I’m in on Ware and out on Hunt. As for West and Spiller, there’s likely better ways to spend your late round darts than on this pair. That being said, keep West on speed dial if anything happens to Ware during the season.

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