The Kansas City Chiefs had really good depth at the running back position in 2014 with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. GM John Dorsey and the Chiefs scouts built a good blend of speed, ability to catch out of the backfield and provide help on special teams.
Here's what we saw in 2014 from the Chiefs running backs:
1. Jamaal Charles
I don't need to tell Chiefs fans this but the seven-year veteran is one of the best in the league. Few backs can constantly turn negative runs into positive yardage on almost any play. Barry Sanders and Marcus Allen are the only other two backs I've watched that consistently did what Charles can do.
The former third round pick is the primary game changer in the Chiefs offense. His speed commands respect from opposing teams and then fear once he gets past the second level. The coaching staff had to scheme ways for Charles to get into open space this season and he responded for as long as he could.
With each game, Charles began to take more and more shots. After his shoulder injury in Buffalo and then his ankle injury in Arizona, injuries caught up with him. He is a tough back who pushed through but he took a ton of shots this year. More weapons on offense can help Charles as much as it would Alex Smith. Teams would be forced to honor the passing game more and allow Charles to put up monstrous numbers in the run and passing game.
The Chiefs need to begin protecting Charles with better blocking otherwise he can't maintain the level he's been at.
2. Knile Davis
The Arkansas alumnus didn't have an ideal sophomore season. Davis' game relies on seeing one cut and then hitting it. When he is forced to draw out a play or dance around in the backfield, his game becomes limited. He doesn't have the natural ability to create players like Charles does. The former third round pick made solid contributions as a change of pace back and on returns. He needs to continue to work on ball security. A better offensive line will enhance his ability to produce in 2015.
3. De'Anthony Thomas
Thomas had a rocky beginning to his first minicamp this offseason. Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy pushed him very hard early on. He emphasized the importance of Thomas' ability to finish on each play. The light turned on for Thomas when training camp began. He pushed himself as the season progressed and forced his way onto the field. The fourth round selection became an explosive playmaker very quickly. His ability to help the offense and special teams stood out very quickly. Thomas began to integrate into the passing game as a receiver during the final two games and he showed promise there. The future is very bright for Thomas at multiple positions. He has made us forget the loss of Dexter McCluster.
4. Anthony Sherman (fullback)
Sherman is arguably one the top three fullbacks in the league behind John Kuhn and Marcel Reece. The four-year veteran is a hard worker and leader on the team. He brings maximum effort every play. Sherman is assignment sound and has incredible versatility on special teams. He brings a great deal to the table and has been a very good pickup for this roster.
5. Charcandrick West
The undrafted free agent from Abilene Christian showed promise in spring practices. He had good burst, vision and acceleration through the hole. He had the looks of a developmental player that was a year or so away from pushing for a spot on the 53-man roster. West made his presence felt on special teams once he was activated from the practice squad. His growth will be interesting to watch.
6. Cyrus Gray
Gray had really good speed when the pads came on in camp. He already had a very important role on special teams as the personal protector. When he sustained his season-ending injury it took away their safety net at the third running back spot but also gave the Chiefs an opportunity to experience what life would be like without him on special teams. The Chiefs may have a tough decision on his future once his recovery is complete.
7. Joe McKnight
McKnight showed tremendous promise during the spring practices. He has a great combination of speed and quickness and he was comfortable catching the ball and making plays out of the backfield. The four-year veteran was making a strong case for the third spot on the roster but then he had knee surgery in the offseason. He slowly made his way back in training camp and looked to be back to his spring form near the end of preseason.
When Charles was unable to go in Miami, McKnight got his chance to shine. He provided the team with a speedy receiving option and carved up the Dolphins linebackers for a big day. Then a couple days later he sustained an Achilles injury. His injury really hurt the Chiefs passing game. McKnight will be a free agent in March and there is no telling if he will be the same player when he has fully recovered.
Running back is not a very big need for the Chiefs in the short-term. The Chiefs will need to begin the search for a player with similar skill sets to Charles over the couple of years. Kansas City cannot have a drop off in their run game production when Charles finally hits that wall. The player replacing Charles doesn't look to be on the roster at this moment.