Friday, July 6, 2012

What Happens If Our OTHER Running Back Goes Down?

Cranking out some ideas for my first article featured in Arrowhead Addict. I'm excited about working with the idea of 'who's more indispensable' going forward - it wrangles with the strategic balance of roster building in weighing who provides not just the most value to the team, but also the most net value (i.e., but for that player's presence, what is the team able to achieve?). 

Jamaal Charles is the best running back the Chiefs have. I could recite his accomplishments and drone on about how I believe he will come back from last year's injury just fine, but there's no use in preaching to the choir here. What you may not be ready to hear is that Charles not only fails to carry the title of "most indispensable to the team," he's not even the most indispensable at his position; Peyton Hillis's presence is more important to our success this year.

To avoid being immediately suspended from ever writing again, let me qualify that paragraph by saying I'm not merely judging what a player brings to the table - I'm also evaluating how readily their talents can be replaced. A 1,600 yard season for Charles and 1,000 yard season for Hillis are reasonable expectations. But without Hillis, we have no change-of-pace bruiser. Currently on the roster at fullback are Shane Bannon, who spent his rookie year in 2011 on the practice squad, and Taylor Gentry, an undrafted rookie out of North Carolina State. Unless one of these guys exceeds expectations during training camp, there is no reliable replacement to run between the tackles and provide burly backfield pass protection if Hillis goes down.

Last year Jackie Battle led the team in rushing while Thomas Jones ranked third. They're never coming back. Dexter McCluster caught 46 receptions and was second on the team in rushing while averaging 4.5 yards/carry in 2011. McCluster is also 5'8", 170 lbs. He's a serviceable substitute for Charles, but not Hillis. He's an exciting player who may not deliver Pro Bowl talent, but can provide  backup if needed to move in from wide receiver. Additionally, with the glut of receivers the Chiefs suddenly find themselves blessed with, moving McCluster back into the backfield wouldn't be that damaging to the receiving corps - we should still have a solid set of receivers plus Moeaki at TE. Cyrus Gray also intrigues me, and provides about the same size as Charles.

There is no doubt in my mind that Charles's contributions will be greater than Hillis's this year. Yet in the event of some unforeseen event depriving us of this extraordinary backfield duo, I'm gritting my teeth and professing a preference for keeping Hillis. Besides, we'll need a bruiser in January to run out the clock as Peyton Manning watches the time wind down to zero to record our first playoff win in far too long. 

So whaddaya think Addicts, is there enough talent on the roster to compensate for another year without Jamaal Charles? Or should I stop writing and just go back to reading Arrowhead Addict from the sidelines?

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