Why I’m Not Drafting Charles – Part 1

Nathan Jahnke takes a look at Jamaal Charles and why he shouldn't be one of the first few RBs taken in 2014 fantasy drafts.

| 3 years ago

Why I’m Not Drafting Charles – Part 1

CharlesAIn 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.

Closing Thoughts

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.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • Kevin

    Overblown concerns IMO.

    First, Charles has played with worse O-line in the past and still put up big numbers. There is reason to believe that the O-line can maintain good production if the young players develop accordingly.

    Also, his coach is Andy Reid and his touches in the passing game are still gonna be there.

    Finally, he’s a 3 down back who gets all goal line carries. He also has home run potential from much further away.

    • Nathan Jahnke

      I’ll address the passing game and goal line carries later this week, but as for the first one I would disagree that Charles has played behind worse OLs, at least in the pros.

      Prior to 2013, Charles had at least one veteran interior linemen with a very strong track record. From 08-10 he had Waters at LG, from 10-12 he had Lilja at various interior positions, and in 2010 he also had Wiegmann at C. While Asamoah didn’t have the track record, he developed into a good RG for 2012. Outside of missing a few games per season, he’s always had Albert at LT. He’s also at times had solid veteran RT’s with McIntosh in 2008 and Winston in 2012.

      His worst OLs came in 2009 and 2013, where in 09 he at least had Albert and Waters on the left side, while Wade Smith had one of his best years at RG. I went into detail on the 2013 line in the post.

      Yes these are young players that can develop, both Jeff Allen and Jeff Linkenbach haven’t really shown any improvement in the run game in the pros, and Hudson is a better pass protector than run blocker. I would expect Fisher and Stephenson to improve, but not to the levels Albert or Winston were at. Even if multiple of the five show modest improvement, I don’t think it is a better run blocking line then any of the lines he has played behind in the past.

      • Kevin

        Fair points.

        A drop should be expected. How large, it still speculative especially since there are plenty of young player. Also, as a side point, Rishaw Johnson has gotten most of the first team snaps, not Linkenbach. The team was impressed with his play against San Diego also added a 4 year college starter in Zach Fulton. There is some competition at guard, although spotty. I am less worried about Fisher and Stephenson from run blocking, both displayed plenty of signs for growth from last year. Chiefs run above average off tackle compared to rest of NFL, per football outsiders.

        Unless this is your next installment, I think a more major concern is the depth behind him. They now have Knile Davis, whom they have more trust in and some extra snaps for likes of DeAnthony Thomas. Charles usage rate was insane last year and I think the coaching staff won’t allow it again.

        • Chris

          They saw Charles get injured down the stretch and they had to play Davis and I believe be got injured too? Charles has had so many touches – they’ve got to start moderating it.

          The OL issues are a huge concern. Last year they had 3 great lineman (Albert, Schwartz, Asamoah), 1 good center (Hudson), and 3 bad lineman (Fisher, Stephenson, Allen). All great ones are gone, all 3 bad ones are going to be full time starters. They added Linkenbach who is a laughable replacement when compared to Schwartz/Asamoah.

          Fisher struggled mightily at RT – even if LT is his more natural position, watching him struggle so badly against NFL caliber ends isn’t building confidence at all.

          This line just has disaster written all over it. Plus they have Davis who is a physical freak (if only he could stop fumbling) and will starting burning touches for Charles to keep him healthy.

  • Anthony

    First of all, Charles had a worse run blocking line in 2009 per this site’s own stats. Yet you expect Charles’ ypc to drop a full YARD below not only average from last year but also from his career average. So your predicting that the current ypc leader in nfl history (who’s never averaged less than 5 ypc) to drop to a completely mediocre ypc. Not happening.

    Charles’ game is predicated on a lightning fast first step which means his o line doesn’t have to sustain blocks for long. His career ypc is not a function of his Oline, but rather his talent.

    • Nathan Jahnke

      In terms of our grades, the 2013 line was worse at run blocking than the 2009 line. Just adding them up isn’t the best method, but in ’09 it was a -8.5 and in ’13 it was -25.1.

      Not just Charles, but every RB’s YPC is a function of both his play and his OLs play. If I had phenomenal blocking in front of me, I could average a decent YPC. Similarly a RB no matter how good will have a low YPC if they are consistently contacted by the defense before they can even reach the LOS. While those are extremes, I do expect Charles to be contacted on average a lot sooner than he was.