I've heard a lot of people who want the Chiefs to draft Trent Richardson out of Alabama with our first round pick. From what they say, he's the Andrew Luck of running backs, the best prospect since Adrian Peterson. This kid is virtually guaranteed to be a star in the league, and has a good chance of being a Hall of Famer one day. I have no idea if this is true or not, since I haven't watch a single minute of Alabama football this year, but I still think that drafting him with our first round pick would be a huge mistake.
Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with Richardson. I have no reason to doubt that he'll be one of the ten best runningbacks in the league in a couple years, but I oppose this pick based on the fact that it is almost always a bad idea to draft a runningback in the first round. Here's why:
Passing is More Important Than Running
Here's a quiz for you. Imagine you're a GM and you're trying to decide between two trades. On the one hand, Minnesota said they would trade you Adrian Peterson for Jackie Battle and your first round pick. On the other hand, Denver offered you Kyle Orton (hypothetically, of course, since this would be impossible) and all you have to give up is Matt Cassel and that same first round pick. Which deal would you make?
Knowing most fans, I'm sure nearly everyone would happily agree to the first one, while they would laugh in your face for even suggesting trading a first round pick for Orton. But, as you might suspect, there is a very strong case to be made that the second trade is not only better, but it is better by a good margin.
This year, Adrian Peterson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, which is quite a bit better than Battle's 4.0 yards per carry. That's 0.7 yards per play better than Battle, which is a pretty good margin. But it is smaller than the difference in Kyle Orton (6.5 NY/A*) and Matt Cassel (5.5 NY/A) by 0.3 yards per play. So just based on that We'd be better off going from Cassel to Orton than we would to go from Battle to Peterson. (Although, to be fair, that's not true if we replace Peterson with Charles or Battle with Jones.)
*Note: NY/A stands for "net yards per attempt", which is basically just yards per attempt that takes into account sacks. I prefer it over simple yards per attempt because it gives you a better measure of how many yards you expect to gain when calling a pass play, and correctly penalizes those QB's who take too many sacks.
But wait, there's more! There is an additional benefit to the QB trade that we don't get in the runningback trade. Since almost every team, including even the run-heavy Chiefs, pass more often than they run, those additional yards per play are more important for a QB than it is for a runningback.
This is crazy, isn't it? Peterson is one of the best runningbacks in the league, while Orton is the QB nobody wants. Isn't Peterson much more valuable? Well, no, because running doesn't really matter that much. This is because the difference between the best passing teams and an average passing team is much greater than the difference between the best running teams and an average team.
This year, the best passing team in the NFL was the Packers with 8.3 NY/A, which is simply amazing. To be fair, I'll pretend they don't exist, and go with the second best team, the Patriots with 7.9 NY/A. With a league average of 6.2 NY/A, that puts the Patriots at 1.7 NY/A better than average.
As for running, the best team was the Panthers with 5.4 Y/A. However, that is unfairly high because of Cam Newton, so again we'll go with the second best team, The Vikings with 5.2 Y/A. With a league average of 4.3 Y/A, that puts the Vikings at only 0.9 Y/A better than average, which is barely half the margin for the passing game.
In short, you gain more from being a good passing team than you do from being a good running team. In fact, notice how the good running teams have bad records while the good passing teams are among the best in the league. This is no coincidence.
If you still don't buy it, consider the two "types" that most good teams seem to fall in to. You're either a good passing team, like the Patriots or Packers, or a team with a good defense and run game, like the Ravens and 49ers. But when was the last time one of the best teams in the league had a good run game but a bad defense? I can't remember any team that would fit this description, yet there are several examples of teams that have first round byes in the playoffs with bad defenses and good passing attacks.
Jamaal Charles is Back, and He is Awesome
I don't know which I find more amazing, Jamaal Charles' stats, or the fact that nobody else seems to realize how amazing they are. They are so amazing, they almost sound like Chuck Norris jokes.
In 2010, Jamaal Charles set the NFL record for quickest to get to 1,100 yards in a season. The previous record holder was Jamaal Charles.
Only twice in NFL history has a running back not in the Hall of Fame had more than 5.85 yards per carry (with at least 150 carries) in a single season. Those two players are Jamaal Charles and Jamaal Charles. In fact, the only other running back to do that more than once is Jim Brown, who is commonly considered to be the best runningback ever (and was #2 on NFL Networks Top 100 NFL players ever).
Only five running backs in NFL history have had over 6 yards per carry in a single season (with at least 150 carries):Jim Brown, Joe Perry, OJ Simpson, Barry Sanders, and Jamaal Charles.
I could go on all day about how amazing Charles has been so far in his NFL career. He is not only the best running back in the NFL today, if he keeps this up he should be considered one of the best of all time. And you're telling me we should draft a runningback in the first round to take carries away from him?
We Don't Have Room For Him
Ideally, there shouldn't be enough touches for a new running back to have any sort of significant load. This is ideally because, after Haley, I don't trust coaches to make correct personnel decisions. I expect us to run more than we should and use Battle or Jones more than we should.
This year we had 500 pass attempts and 487 rush attempts. So we have about 487 carries to hand out. In 2010, Charles had 230 carries. We can increase this to 250 and still be pretty conservative. McCluster had 114 carries this year, which can be increased to 130 if we plan to use him a bit more. This give us the ability to pass to him out of the backfield while still threatening the run. We can then convert 50 of those runs into passes, which will put us closer to the league average in rushing attempts and, since passing is more effective than running, make us a better team. Our QB's had 36 carries this year, and I'd expect about the same number next year.
That plan leaves us with 21 carries, which can either be given to Battle, or split up among Charles, McCluster, and the QB to pass or run.
Of course, we could split carried between the rookie and Charles like we did in 2010 with Charles and Jones, but that would require us to be a run first team, which is not the direction you want to go if you want to win Super Bowls.