In 2011, the Kansas City Chiefs were without Jamaal Charles for 15 games. One of the more explosive runners in the NFL, Charles' loss proved to be too much for the offense to overcome, finishing 31st in points per game last season. Now, with Charles seemingly healthy and back on the field, the outlook appears bright once more.
If his knee can maintain it's stability, Charles is ready to roll with a Chiefs team that has expectations for a postseason berth. He'll be the main cog offensively, carrying the load alongside newly-acquired Peyton Hillis.
The question remains, how effective will Charles be in 2012?
Negative: It's the obvious; he's coming off of major knee surgery. Without going into heavy amounts of statistics, the numbers aren't good for most running backs in their first year after tearing an ACL.
Charles doesn't have great size, so he relies heavily on his speed and lateral movement. His long-term speed shouldn't be affected, but his ability to shake defenders with quick cuts and bursts is in serious question.
Positive: The injury happened in September, not December. Charles has had ample time to recover and strengthen the knee unlike Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.
The 25-year-old is also very young, something that certainly helps the chance of a full recovery from such a scary injury. Charles has seemed borderline possessed in interviews during the offseason to get back on the field and "make them feel my pain" as he put it. Words aren't everything, but he definitely didn't sound like a man worrying about his aching knee.
My Take: I believe Charles will have another terrific season.
With Hillis being able to take a lot of the carries - especially early - Charles can ease back into playing full-time. He also has the luxury of being on the best team the Chiefs have had in years, with the best offensive line they've had during his career.
Just watching clips in practice and seeing him against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night, Charles looks like he's running with hesitation. Ultimately, that's the biggest test; trusting the knee. In his career, the Texas product has averaged 6.1 yards per carry. I don't expect to see a major drop-off.
The Chiefs have weapons all over the field, making it very hard to commit eight in the box without singling up a ton of talent. Charles won't have to face stacked defenses on the line like he has in the past, with a much improved line in front of him. The combination will be devastating.
All in all, I see Charles as having about 1,200 yards on around 200 carries with 10 touchdowns. Sprinkle in 40 catches for 400 yards, and you're looking at a Pro Bowl season.
As for the conclusion of this piece, I'll let Jamaal have the final say:
"When I touch that field again, you're going to feel my pain." - 2012 NFL Comeback Player Of The Year