Why I'm Not Drafting Charles - Part 1
In 2013 Jamaal Charles had one of the best seasons by a running back in recent memory. His +22.4 Overall PFF rating was the fourth best by a back over the last seven years. He also had 309.3 fantasy points in standard leagues which was the second best for a running back over the last six years, and the best by a back this year by a decent margin.
While I believe Charles can continue being a great running back who breaks a lot of tackles, I think his numbers will see a noticeable decline. As usual any running back not in a running back by committee is worthy of a high round draft pick in any fantasy league. However I don’t believe he is worthy of being one of the top few picks in a fantasy draft. Over a series of articles over the next few days, I will outline why I am concerned about his 2014 season.
Offensive Line Changes
In 2013 the Chiefs had seven different offensive linemen with 500 or more snaps due to various injuries throughout the season. Due to most of the linemen playing just a partial season, the PFF grade after each linemen’s name is their overall grade over the last two seasons.
The starting left tackle was Branden Albert (+23.8) and starting right tackle was first overall pick Eric Fisher (-17.8). They both had four games each where they didn’t start, so in their place was 2013 third round pick Donald Stephenson (-15.3).
At guard Kansas City had Jeff Allen (-31.5) and Jon Asamoah (+22.9) as their starters. Both missed some time due to injury which led to Geoff Schwartz (+24.1) starting eight games at left and right guard, including some playing time at right tackle as well. The only player to see over 1000 snaps in the season was center Rodney Hudson (+6.5).
This off-season, the Chiefs lost the three linemen with the highest grades in Albert who went to Miami, Schwartz who is now a Giant, and Asamoah who left for the Falcons. Those three players were the top three linemen in terms of both run blocking and pass blocking for the Chiefs.
At tackle Fisher is moving to left tackle while Stephenson is becoming a full time starter. Allen is saying at left guard and Hudson remains at center. Free agent addition Jeff Linkenbach (-23.9) was added from the Colts to take over at right guard.
Not only will the Chiefs starters be significantly worse in 2014, but they also are lacking depth. Rokevious Watkins (-5.6), Eric Kush (-3.8) and Rishaw Johnson (-2.0) are all interior linemen who were all young linemen retained from last year. Each saw fewer than 100 snaps. The team added J’Marcus Webb (+0.9) to be a backup at offensive tackle. They added two sixth round picks on the line as well.
Using 2013 to Predict 2014
The change will have a significant impact on Charles production in terms of rushing yards. Last year when both Schwartz and Albert were blocking for Charles, then Charles averaged 3.4 yards before he was contacted per carry. With either Schwartz or Albert but not both on the field, Charles’ rushing average was down to 2.5. When neither player was on the field, Charles averaged just 1.3 yards before he was contacted per carry.
Last year Charles averaged 2.2 yards after contact per carry, so if the linemen performs like it did last year and Charles has similar production after contact, he would just have 3.5 yards per carry. While I expect the young players to show some improvement which will increase the yards before contact per carry, this doesn’t account for the Chiefs downgrading at right guard from Asamoah to Linkenbach at right guard which will lower the yards before contact per carry. In general Charles will be contacted sooner than usual, which will hurt his yards per carry.
Using Comparable Situations to Predict 2014
It’s hard to find a clear comparison for Charles because it’s not every day an offensive line has their three best players leave. Typically when there is a lot of changes to the offensive line it is because they were bad. In this case the line performed relatively well and then had players leave.
What we can look at are the running backs who saw the biggest declines in their teams run blocking from one year to another and how it affected their running backs. The most clear recent example is the Arizona Cardinals from 2011 to 2012. In 2011 the Cardinals had a line from left to right of Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge, Lyle Sendlein, Rex Hadnot, and Brandon Keith/Jeremy Bridges. The line was by no means good at pass protecting for Kevin Kolb/John Skelton, but they were above average at blocking for their running backs. It was the third year of Beanie Wells at running back who average 4.3 yards per carry and had a 1000 yard season. His top backup was LaRod Stephens-Howling who averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
One major change in 2012 was at left tackle. Levi Brown was terrible at pass protection in 2011 as usual, but had a +6.9 Run Block rating in 2011. He missed all of 2012 which left D’Anthony Batiste and Nate Potter to play left tackle. They had a combined run block rating of -11.1. Similarly at right guard Rex Hadnot had a very average year in 2011 and was slightly above average in run blocking. He was replaced by free agent addition Adam Snyder who had a -13.8 run block rating. Both Colledge and Sendlein both saw a decline in their run blocking from having positive grades to negative. Finally while there were changes at right tackle, the run blocking was roughly the same.
Behind this weakened offensive line, Beanie Wells saw his yards per carry from 4.3 to 2.7, while Stephens-Howling saw his yards per carry decrease from 3.9 to 3.2. Wells is on the extreme end of a running backs decline from one year to another. Of the 12 running backs who saw the biggest decline in the blocking in front of them on average saw a decrease in their yards per carry of 0.65. While you might think this only applies to below average running backs like Wells, Adrian Peterson had his worst year rushing in 2009 after he lost Matt Birk and had Phil Loadholt replace Ryan Cook. He saw a 0.41 yards per carry decrease after keeping his best run blocking linemen in Steve Hutchinson and losing his second and third best in Birk and Cook. Charles is losing his first, second and third best.
Year after year Kansas City was able to put some solid veteran linemen in front of Charles including Brian Waters, Damion McIntosh, Wade Smith, Casey Wiegmann, Barry Richardson, Ryan Lilja and Eric Winston. In 2013 Charles had his worst run blocking line in front of him and it led to his worst yards per carry. Unless multiple linemen can take large steps forward, I would expect his yards per carry to drop to a little over 4 yards per carry. Tomorrow I’ll examine why he will likely see a decrease in receiving targets, as well as how the schedule will impact Charles.