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Kansas City Chiefs roster analysis: Jamaal Charles and the running backs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor's note: We continue on with our Chiefs offseason roster analysis from Dirk Scholl, Aaron Hansberry, and Joe Edwards of Football Futures. Many thanks to them for allowing us to post their analysis here. Check out the previous positions here.]

The running backs

RB - Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, De'Anthony Thomas, Cyrus Gray 
FB - Anthony Sherman 

Other players: Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West

Free agents: Joe McKnight

A general look at the unit

This is one of the units the Chiefs should feel really good about. One of the top running backs in the league, one of the top fullbacks, and a nice complement of supporting players form a group that other teams should be envious of. Whenever you put the pigskin in their hands you can hope for something good to happen. There's only one thing we are slightly worried about: the occasional flurry of fumbles ...

The guys under contract

Jamaal Charles is obviously the bell cow here. Whenever he touches the ball there's a danger of him being gone for six. His elusiveness and vision combined with his ability to break tackles is just incredible. He made the Chiefs running game look good last season despite the deficiencies of the offensive line. Even with his rather small frame he's a willing and capable blocker. For good reason, the Chiefs extended his contract, so he'll stick around for a while. The only question is how long he'll be able to keep up his performance. However, for now that's nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, the Chiefs should keep an eye on his workload and give him a breather whenever possible.

Knile Davis remains a dual threat. As a capable backup running back and a pretty good kick returner he put his mark on the Chiefs. It took him a while to emerge behind Charles but now he seems to have found his role. We think he might be ready for a bigger workload if he is able to protect the ball. His fumbling issues seem to be the only thing to worry about. Under contract through 2016 he was a nice find and will continue to contribute.

Cyrus Gray has been buried behind Charles throughout his tenure as a Chief. So he had to earn his living as a special teamer - and he did. One of the key pieces of Dave Toub's unit and an occasional contributor in the running game, he provides good value for the money he's making. We would not consider him a viable option as a No. 2 running back with Charles and Davis in town, thus this year may be his last in red and gold. He'll have to fight for his job against up and coming newbies providing a potential longer term contribution.

De'Anthony Thomas may be considered a running back, but he'd be better characterized as an Offensive Weapon. His elusiveness and speed likely make him an upgrade over Dexter McCluster. Using him creatively adds another wrinkle to the game and the Chiefs have been pretty good at doing so. His tiny frame prevents him from running much between the tackles, but the threat of getting him the ball in space should always keep the opponents on their toes. He'll continue returning punts - and probably will take one home again next season.

Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West are just names for now. While West saw some action during the second half of the Chiefs' season, albeit only on special teams, Ware was an early offseason pick up. Both will compete with Gray for a role as designated special teamer / emergency running back only.

Anthony Sherman may be considered a relic from times gone by. A classical smack to the mouth fullback who kind of reminds me of Jason Dunn in his aggressive style of blocking. His extension (for some serious money at that position) should provide some valuable continuity to the Chiefs run game. While his contribution as pass catcher or runner are very limited he provides an important part of paving the way not only for the running backs but also the receivers and tight ends in gaining yards after the catch and on special teams. He'll return as a serious contributor.

The free agent

Joe McKnight should be considered gone. The depth the Chiefs developed over the past two seasons is sufficient, so there is no need for an additional veteran presence.

Cap considerations

At $7M annually, Charles is no longer is on a bargain deal, and Sherman landed the third highest fullback deal. So the Chiefs invested some in this position. But as Davis and whoever will end up behind him are on budget contracts, the cap situation will not influence offseason decision making.

Overall assessment

Probably one of the top groups in the league. As long as Charles is healthy there's nothing to worry about. A lot of flexibility here with the combination of speed, elusiveness, and power provided by the top three guys.

However, Charles isn't getting any younger, and throughout the past two seasons he has had episodes of lingering injuries. Having him on a reasonable snap count is important to maintain the performance of this unit throughout the season and beyond.

That said we don't expect much movement here until training camp. Maybe the addition of one or two UDFAs. With Thomas being something other than a classical running back we expect the Chiefs to again carry four running backs and one fullback into the season.


Eric Bieniemy obviously does a good job here. There's no reason to consider a change. I'd even go a step further and consider him a possible in-house replacement for OC Doug Pederson if that discussion should ever come up. Bienimy got some experience as OC during a two year stint back at the college level at his alma mater, Colorado, from 2011 to 2012.


RB - Charles, Davis, Thomas, Gray or someone else

FB - Sherman