Larry Johnson will be the Chiefs starter next season. Larry Johnson will not be traded this off-season. If you have not accepted that yet, do it now.
Impact in 2008: With even a slight improvement to the KC offensive line, Larry Johnson should easily be able to top 1,200 yards rushing next season, if not more. He will be instrumental in the development of Brodie Croyle, both as a blocker and as a diversion to opposing defenses. With a healthy LJ starting next year, teams will again have to overcompensate on the line of scrimmage and put fewer defenders downfield.
If was I giving out formal grades this season, Jackie Battle would get an incomplete. Only fourteen carries this season for the 6'2" rookie out of Houston. A RB/FB type runner, Battle isn't big enough yet to be a true NFL fullback and is currently best suited for short-yardage situations.
Impact in 2008: Jackie Battle may not even be on this team by the summer. His '08 status is uknown at this point. The best he can probably hope for is a spot on the practice squad or as the Chiefs no. 3 running back. Kolby Smith has locked up the no. 2 position, leaving Battle to either make his name at the fullback position or stay on as the no. 3 running back.
Harris sat on the Chiefs practice squad until the Thanksgiving week Oakland Raider game, when he was activated after Priest Holmes suddenly retired. He had nine carries for nine total yards in four games. On his first NFL carry, Harris fumbled the ball out of bounds. Like Battle, Harris would get an incomplete for 2007. He is more of a true fullback than Jackie Battle is but with such a small sample of plays to go by, his future with the Chiefs is unclear.
Impact in 2008: Will be as a fullback, if he's on the team at all.
Kolby Smith shone this past season after he replaced Priest Holmes in Week 12 as the Chiefs primary ball carrier. In his first NFL start, Smith rushed the ball thirty-one times for 150 yards. He ended the season with 112 rushes for 407 yards, which is a 3.6 yard per carry average. Not too shabby. Especially when you consider the state of the Chiefs offensive line.
Smith was the Chiefs most effective running back this season, mostly due to his scat backing ability. The porous o-line forced the quicker Kolby Smith to cut back and forth multiple times, something Larry Johnsonwasn't able to do as well. LJ is great at that first cut but doesn't pull out many juke moves with multiple cuts.
Impact in 2008: The Chiefs have their backup running back for the time being. Smith will definitely be on the active roster to start 2008 but will see minimal time with LJ starting. He'll be great insurance to have if Larry gets injured again and also as a nice change of pace back for when LJ is tired/overworked.
Outlook for 2008
The Chiefs are lucky to have one of the truly great running backs in the NFL today coming back next year, hopefully 100% healthy (cross your fingers). We discovered we have a great backup in Kolby Smith. All in all, as long as the Chiefs avoid more injuries, the running back position is looking just great for 2008.
It would be great if either Harris or Battle could become a true fullback. Boomer Grigsby can't cut it. I've always felt that losing Tony Richardson and not finding a replacement hurt more than the Chiefs realized. The fullback position has all but disappeared in the NFL but that doesn't mean it still can't be used effectively. Look at Lorenzo Neal in San Diego. He is one the remaining true fullbacks in the league and has blocked for a 1,000 yard rusher in each of the last eleven seasons. He was blocking for some great backs but that doesn't mean it's their success is a coincidence.
Our personnel in the running game won't be a problem -- our line will be though.