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Offseason Roster Review: Running Back

Posted Jan 18, 2012

Reviewing and previewing each position heading into the 2012 offseason

Chiefs Running Back Overview

Under Contract (4)

Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Shaun Draughn, Shane Bannon

Free Agents (3)

Jackie Battle (Unrestricted), Thomas Jones (Unrestricted), Le’Ron McClain (Unrestricted)

End Of Season Depth Chart

Running Back

1. Thomas Jones, 2. Dexter McCluster, 3. Shaun Draughn

Injured Reserve: Jamaal Charles, Jackie Battle

Fullback

1. Le’Ron McClain

Practice Squad Injured Reserve: Shane Bannon

What Happened: All-Pro Jamaal Charles picked up right where he left off a year prior, averaging 6.9 yards per carry in 2011. Unfortunately, Charles logged just 12 carries all season.

The third of Kansas City’s “Big Three” to suffer a left knee injury in as many weeks, Charles’ season-ending injury kept the team’s most explosive offensive threat in rehabilitation mode for the final 14 games of the season. Charles’ injury was a portrait of the Chiefs forgetful start when his season ended at the feet of “Roary,” the Detroit Lions mascot.

Kansas City went with a by-committee approach at running back following Charles’ injury with Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle each getting their chance to shoulder the rushing load. Each player finished a game as the team’s leading rusher at least once.

After entering training camp as arguably the fifth-most likely player to serve as a feature back, Battle would end up leading the team in rushing with 597 yards on 149 carries. A career special teams player and short-yardage specialist, Battle had entered the season with just 41 carries in 33 career games.

The Chiefs would finish the season with only one 100-yard rushing performance – Battle’s 19-carry, 119-yard outing at Indianapolis. Kansas City put together six 100-yard efforts in 2010 with four coming from Charles and two coming from Jones.

Not only did the Chiefs lose an irreplaceable talent in Charles, but the offense lost out on irreplaceable personnel packages as well.

The Chiefs ran numerous plays in camp featuring Charles and McCluster in the backfield at the same time, but were hardly able to show the look in 2011. With those two runners aligning beside each another, the ability to attack a defense knows little boundary.

This offense was building on a running game led by Charles’ legs, but couldn’t find rushing consistency after its primary play-maker was taken away.

Big Question

Who surrounds Charles in the backfield next season?

What’s Next

How will the Chiefs find a capable 20-carry per game runner to serve alongside Charles? There are a number of routes the team can take.

Last week, general manager Scott Pioli mentioned Battle among the players he’d like to bring back to Kansas City next season. In what role would Battle serve? Did his 2011 season earn him a shot as the thunder to Charles’ lightning or is he viewed as a situational short-yardage runner?

Dexter McCluster’s role could increase going forward, but it’s hard to see his per game workload go above 15 touches. Last season McCluster averaged just fewer than 10 touches per game.

In many ways, this year’s draft has the potential for selecting a mid-round running back written all over it. Every season sees rookie runners produce and it’s one of the few positions to see consistent production from players selected late in the draft, or not selected at all.

Roy Helu and Kendall Hunder, a pair of fourth round picks, were solid for Washington and San Francisco last season. The year before, LeGarrette Blount put together a 1,000-yard rookie campaign after going undrafted.

There are plenty of similar examples across the league.

The approach at fullback needs to be evaluated as well with McClain set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Whoever is hired as offensive coordinator will have their suggestions for best constructing a backfield around Charles.

Story You Missed

An emotional Jones, 33 years old and headed for unrestricted free agency, reminded his teammates not to take the game of football for granted following the Chiefs Week 17 victory in Denver.

Despite a statically-frustrating season, Jones continued to carry a big voice inside the locker room, during position/team meetings and on gameday.

Video: Chiefs locker room following the Week 17 victory in Denver.

One Sentence Wraps

Jamaal Charles: Priest Holmes was convinced he got even faster after knee surgery (can Charles get any faster?).

Thomas Jones: Low yardage totals weren’t from a lack of concentration, leadership or effort.

Dexter McCluster: Lining up next to Charles in the backfield will make third downs a lot more difficult for opponents to defend.

Jackie Battle: A good season for perhaps one of the more underappreciated players of the past five seasons.

Le’Ron McClain: Nostradamus nearly took a back seat to McClain’s 5-3 prediction.

Shaun Draughn: Impressed coaches and teammates enough to earn a Week 17 promotion to the 53-man roster.

Shane Bannon: It’s a shame few people outside Arrowhead got to see Bannon during Moustache Season (aka Movember).

Interesting Stat

The Chiefs were one of only four NFL teams (alongside Denver, Carolina and New Orleans) to have three players with more than 400 rushing yards, but were one of just four teams (alongside Cleveland, Detroit and Green Bay) without a 600-yard rusher.

 

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