Since his second season in the NFL in 2009, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles has been one of the most consistent rushers in fantasy football. He is one of the prominent dual threats in the league who can beat the opposing defense on the ground or through the air. Charles is 29 years old, however, and will turn the ominous age of 30 in December, an age that NFL running backs begin to take a step back in their career. With two season-ending ACL injuries under his belt, the most recent occurring in 2015, Charles could be a risky fantasy football player to target in 2016.
Charles started fast in 2015. Prior to his injury in Week 5, he racked up 364 rushing yards and four touchdowns, including one 100-yard rushing game. Charles also caught 21-of-30 targets for 177 yards and another trip to the end zone. Through the first five games last year, Charles was the second ranked running back in fantasy points scored with 80.1 and a 16.0 FPPG average. Charles was once again on track for a top-five finish.
Following Charles’ injury, the fantasy football world saw the emergence of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware in Kansas City’s backfield. In Charles’ absence, West appeared to assume the role of the injured Pro Bowler. He tallied 848 total yards (214 receiving) and five touchdowns. Ware, however, was nearly invisible in the passing game as the bulk of his production came on the ground. He would finish the season with 408 total yards (five receiving) and six scores. Both West and Ware had the league buzzing as the Chiefs’ offense barely skipped a beat without Charles. Or did they?
Together, West and Ware were able to fill the shoes of one man production-wise, but neither were able to show that they are a game-breaking talent like Charles. He adds an extra element for the opposing defense to gameplan against when he is healthy and on the field. At any time, Charles can take a run that is seemingly stopped at the line, or a short pass, and break it for a score. He has the intangibles that can’t be taught or replaced.
Throughout the offseason, there have been reports that the Chiefs would convert to a by-committee backfield, and Kansas City’s re-signing of West and Ware reinforced those rumors. Nevertheless, conflicting reports reared their heads and stated that Charles would not be limited if he returned to his borderline elite level of play that we are accustomed to seeing. It appears that the fantasy football community will have to take a wait-and-see approach in determining how, in fact, the Chiefs will utilize Charles in 2016.
Charles may only have one last great season under his belt before descending into the fantasy football backs of yesteryear, but 2016 is it. Charles is in a running back-friendly system with the skill set to match. Head Coach Andy Reid has a history of generating productive rushers under dating back to his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. His offensive scheme and coaching style allowed players that include Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy to create names for themselves as dual-threat options out of the backfield and as highly-prolific fantasy options at the peak of their careers.
The Chiefs have the 19th ranked strength of schedule at the running back position in 2016 which is about average. However, two of those weeks they will play the defending Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos and their stout No. 1 ranked defense that finished the year third against the run. In his only appearance against the Broncos in 2015, Charles had an outstanding contest where he rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for four yards. That game could have been an anomaly for Charles, as his previous four outings against Denver were not as fruitful.
Charles has a No. 8 ADP at his position and a No. 16 ADP overall entering fantasy draft season. The players around his ADP, including Devonta Freeman and Eddie Lacy, haven’t maintained the steady history of production that Charles has throughout his career. In mock drafts, Charles is being selected in the mid-second round and is a steal at that spot. Charles has the upside to finish the upcoming campaign in the top five in fantasy points scored among running backs if his health remains intact.