Do the Chiefs See Jamaal Charles as a Future #1 Running Back?

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Between 2001 and 2002, Kansas City Chiefs' running back Priest Holmes rushed for 3,170 yards and 29 touchdowns. In two short years after coming from Baltimore, Holmes had established himself as one of the premiere running backs in the NFL, as well as putting together two of the greatest rushing seasons ever for a Kansas City Chief.

With three games left in the 2002 season, the Chiefs traveled to Mile High stadium to play the Denver Broncos in a game they eventually lost by a touchdown. After breaking off a 56-yard run in the third quarter, Priest Holmes was dragged down by Denver defenders and left the game with a bruised right hip. Holmes didn't finish the rest of the season and after a stellar 2003 season, only played in 19 games over the next four years because of injuries.

After the 2002 season, which ended with Holmes nearly being placed on injured reserve, the Chiefs' first move in the 2003 draft was to draft Penn St. running back Larry Johnson with the 27th overall pick.

At the time, it was deemed a curious pick by the experts. Priest Holmes had just had two of the greatest rushing seasons in franchise history and there were plenty of arguments that improving a swiss cheese defense should have been priority #1, considering the squad ended 2002 ranked last in total defense, second to last in pass defense and 24th overall in rush defense.

Thankfully, and this is a rarity out of the Dick Vermeil coaching years in the draft, the Chiefs knew what they were doing (or got lucky). As I mentioned before, Priest Holmes' skills quickly eroded after a number of serious injuries and Larry Johnson was able to fill in and absolutely dominated. 50 touchdowns and two seasons of over 1,750 yards rushing later and the LJ pick is no longer questioned.

Currently, the Chiefs find themselves in a similar position as 2003. They have a Pro Bowl running back coming off a severe injury, the nature of which could affect the rest of Larry Johnson's career. The Chiefs also drafted a running back when many thought they would focus on other positions. Drafting Jamaal Charles in the third round gave me a similar feeling as when LJ was drafted - Interesting but didn't we have bigger needs?

I slept on it. I talked with people here. I became much, much comfortable with this pick. In fact, a few days removed from the draft, I'll contend this was the best pick the Chiefs could have made at the time.

The Chiefs' running back situation in 2007 did not end well. The team was performing emergency surgery at the end of 2007 - trying to keep enough parts working together just to barely function. Without Larry Johnson in the lineup, the Chiefs' lack of depth was exposed. Doesn't the idea of Jackie Battle playing in the NFL sound a bit ridiculous now?

Perhaps not the "third down" back he's being billed as (although he'll play that role with the Chiefs for now), Jamaal Charles showed the ability to shoulder a large workload late in his college career. Charles finished his 2007 season with 258 carries and 1,619 yards.

Jamaal Charles may not be ready to be a 20-25 carry a game running back but he doesn't have to be right now. He'll compliment Larry Johnson quite well and I predict he jumps Kolby Smith on the depth chart rather quickly.

But like Larry Johnson was to Priest Holmes, don't be surprised if Charles gets the opportunity to start and picks up where LJ left off. He has the talent to do just that.

As fickle as the running back position can be in the NFL, and this is a cliche, but you really can't have too many good ones. Picking Jamaal Charles in the third round of the 2008 draft may turn out to be a franchise saver, just like Larry Johnson turned out be.

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