Long gone are the days of the traditional NFL running back. We may never see the big, tough, bruising running backs again in the NFL. We still have Adrian Peterson, but his kind are a dying breed. We’ll see the hybrid tail back from now on. Players like LeSean McCoy, who can catch passes, beat guys to the edge, and make big plays down the field are the future of the NFL. That’s what the spread offense and its supporters want the game to become There is one player who can change this trend and flip the script back to the West Coast offense, and his name is Jamaal Charles.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ running back is the perfect combination of strong, quick, and fast. He hits the hole and explodes into the second level, leaving lineman and linebackers alike in the dust.
Charles has the ability to shift the focus of the NFL back to the running game, and pseudo-running/screen game, because of his unique speed and power, and he thrives in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense. While the rest of the NFL continues to transition into a completely spread out passing league, the Chiefs still run a traditional-type offense. Quarterback Alex Smith might not have the ability to win football games by throwing 50 times per game. He needs help to open up plays down the field, and that’s exactly the kind of support Charles provides.
Of the top rushers last season, Charles was third in total rush yards, despite carrying the ball nearly twenty times less than any of the top-nine rushers. He’s a big play machine, and he doesn’t need the touches to get the job done. Only McCoy and Demarco Murray had a higher yards per carry average last season than Charles. That’s incredibly impressive, especially when you consider McCoy and Murray play in the much more spread-style passing offenses. Kansas City uses a much more conservative offense with a straightforward scheme and basically no passing game. The defense knows Charles is getting the ball, but they have a very hard time stopping him.
Other than McCoy, Charles is the only other player in the top-10 in total yards who’s not a traditional-style running back. As the passing game becomes the staple for winning football in the NFL, all of those power runners are running out of places to display their skills. Obviously, big, powerful runners will still have suitors, but how far away are we from completely eliminating the big back from football anyway? I tend to believe it’s closer than people think, especially with a guys like Charles and McCoy proving they’re more valuable because they can do more than run they ball and pass block.
Of course, running the football will always be a crucial part of football. Even the Denver Broncos, who rewrote the NFL records this season for the passing game, had 1,000-yard rusher this season in Knowshon Moreno. Of the last ten Super Bowl winners, six of them rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a team in that season. It pays off to be able to run the football, and it pays off in championships.
Schematically, Charles is so important because he forces the defense to stay home, not overplay, and stops the pass rushers from getting up the field. If the defensive line gets to far up the field, the Chiefs can run a draw or a screen pass and it’s off the races. Technically, the screen pass doesn’t count as a rush, but it neutralizes the defensive line in a similar way to running the football. It also adds to Charles’ list of what he can do to help the team win, which makes him an even hotter commodity and the future of running backs in the NFL. In the same way the Minnesota Vikings have given the ball to Peterson 25+times per game to carry the team, the Chiefs are using Charles in a similar way, but with less hand-offs and rushes and more screens and short passes. It’s not the first time in history offensives have used one player to carry them in both rushing and receiving. Just look at the work Ray Rice has done in Baltimore. The Chiefs, however, have a much more powerful, stronger runner in Charles.
Without Charles, Kansas City’s West Coast offense would be anemic. It looked bad at times last season, and that was with Charles in the lineup. Without him, they’d be another team at the bottom of the pack, winning five games per year. Instead, Kansas City was one of the best teams in the league last season and a huge part of that success could be attributed to Charles. In fact, on the road, the Chiefs had the Indianapolis Colts blown out in the playoffs before Charles left the game with a concussion. With Charles, the Chiefs could have a made a run at winning the AFC last season. Without him, they’re just an average team.
And that’s why Charles could be the future of the NFL running back. Unlike Peterson, Charles isn’t a freak of nature. He’s just a good, not great, combination of all the right physical tools one needs to play running back at a high level in the NFL. When I watch Charles, I see a guy who can come out of the backfield and catch passes as well as he can run between the tackles. Charles’ size and speed allows him to do those two things as well or better than anyone else in the league.
As the rules become more pass friendly, another bruising running back might come into the league and change the direction of the league entirely. Maybe, more and more athletes will choose to become receivers and will force NFL coaches and quarterbacks to spread the field out and throw 50+ times per game. There’s also a possibility this passing/spread trend slows down. I foresee an NFL that stays in a similar state that it’s in now, where the all out aerial assault is successful, but the West Coast power run/screen game wins the championships. In the NFL, it’s all about balance. The scales may tilt one way or the other at times, but there’s always going to be a guy like Charles, a perfect fit in an imperfect offense to bring it all back to the middle.