UPDATE: With the Jamaal Charles injury, this post on Charcandrick West is more relevant.
There are few players getting more hype right now among Chiefs fans than Charcandrick West.
You mention his name to almost any Chiefs fan who has followed the preseason and odds are you'll get a gushing response about his combination of quickness, balance, and surprising power.
As tends to happen with preseason heroes, the West bandwagon has gone from nearly nonexistent to nearly broken due to being so overloaded. Seems like every time I look at Twitter I see another Chiefs fan expressing their support for West (who, if you're into Twitter, has criminally few followers for a guy who engages quite a bit).
It also doesn't hurt West's cause that he's the backup to backup Knile Davis, a player who is ... controversial with Chiefs fans. Debate about Davis has raged from the time he was drafted in 2013, and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down soon. A pretty sizable group of Chiefs fans have been waiting for a "hero" to save them from seeing Davis on the field, and see in West a guy who can replace him.
I don't fall into the crowd that reviles Knile Davis. However, I don't fall into the crowd that is completely satisfied with him (there's a fairly vocal minority that seems to view him as a very good back). I've written extensively about my opinion of Davis; basically that he's a fantastic athlete with incredible speed who doesn't seem to consistently display the vision to play at a high level.
I won't rehash the Knile article, but since I'm calling for him to be replaced as the backup by West (if the title of the article didn't tip you off to that ... uh... spoiler alert?), I'm at least going to give an example of what I'm talking about.
Davis was running what looked to a stretch run left on this play. It's defended pretty well by the Dolphins' linebacker, who gets around the edge to try and force Davis to either turn it WAY outside or cut back inside.
I pointed out here the lane existing inside for Davis to take advantage of. It wouldn't have been a big play, but it's likely he would have gotten at least 3-4 yards out of it. Considering how hard Davis hits when he commits to it, I wouldn't rule out him getting as many as six yards out of this blocking.
However, instead of cutting back inside Davis instead reversed course and tried to cut back right in a Barry Sanders-esque move. The problem is Davis isn't Barry Sanders, and he was buried under an avalanche of defenders.
That play signifies what bothers me about Davis. When he's got good blocking, his explosive speed allows him to make fantastic plays where many running backs would have merely "good" plays. But when he's got poor blocking, or even average blocking, he fails the majority of the time. He lacks decisiveness and doesn't seem to recognize when it's time to just go north-south for three yards. He gets caught dancing or trying to get to the edge (or reverse field, like here), and gets more losses than most runners I've ever watched. Boom or bust on every carry.
Now let me make a disclaimer here ... MAYBE Davis has solved all these issues. We've seen very little of him this preseason. So sure, there's a chance he's improved drastically in these areas and will make me look like a fool for saying he's not a good runner. I hope he does.
But in the meantime, all we can do is go off the information we have. Want to know why I prefer West to Davis? Simple, boring plays like this one.
These types of runs don't pop on the stats sheet, but they're important; maximizing on a play with poor blocking. pic.twitter.com/SnguRXcrRK— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 28, 2015
The offensive line didn't "win" much on that play, and West had very little to work with. However, he made the correct decision to cut upfield (finding a pretty small hole to work his way through) and fight for what yardage he could get.
It's an incredibly boring decision, yes. But making that decision quickly and executing it with speed is exactly what I want out of my running back. And it doesn't hurt that West demonstrates enough "wiggle" to go along with his speed to get a fairly positive four yards out of a play that looked like it was going for nothing.
In the NFL, running backs often have to figure out how to work with plays that aren't going exactly as drawn up. Unless you're playing for the Dallas Cowboys, odds are that at least one blocker is going to get beat by a defender any given running play. Defenses are just that good at the NFL level. Additionally, any hesitation as a runner gets you killed at this level. Defenders swarm to the ball so, so quickly.
West doesn't have the issue of hesitating, and it's a clear contrast between what we've seen from Davis when he doesn't have great blocking. Davis dances, West cuts. That's a big, big, big deal.
Now, if West had some issue that equaled things out it would be a different discussion. However, watching, and re-watching West's snaps during the preseason he doesn't seem to have any kind of glaring weakness as a running back. He catches the ball well out of the backfield, he finds the holes that are there, he blocks well (we'll get into that in a second), he's got balance ...
Basically, the only argument someone could make for Davis based on what we've seen from him so far is that Davis is faster than West. And frankly, I can't argue with that. In a straight line, Davis is one of the faster running backs in the NFL, with a burst that only a few running backs can match.
However, the argument that Davis's speed is a MAJOR advantage over West only works if West lacks speed himself. Which he doesn't.
In addition to West's other traits, he's got the speed to get to the edge. Dagger run vs. SEA showed that. pic.twitter.com/PpenmJeUs6— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 3, 2015
The Chiefs were in a terrible position here, backed up to the goal line on second and 11-ish. West gets the ball with a secondary player having a good shot at him. However, as you can see, he's able to outrun the angle (something fast players do) and actually gets the first down. This was a fantastic run that essentially ended the game as a realistic competition.
No, West isn't as fast as Davis. However, he's plenty fast. So Davis's one advantage over him isn't nearly as pronounced as it would be against other players.
West also consistently demonstrates a physicality to his game that we've yet to see from Davis on a snap-by-snap basis. We're all constantly screaming for Davis to start hitting people, staring at his ridiculous 230-pound frame and imagining defenders' bones crunching at an impact with Davis at his sub-4.4 speed. However, despite his large frame Davis hasn't performed particularly well as a pass blocker, a major issue in Andy Reid's offense.
West is more than willing to hit people. In fact, rarely does a play go by where he DOESN'T hit someone if he doesn't have the ball. It's gotten to the point that I keep an eye on him on plays where he's pass blocking, or when he's part of a play action fake.
I want that in a running back. And West delivers that repeatedly in pass protection (and just blocking in general). It could be that he still has a special team mentality, but whatever the reason, I love it. Our offense needs more players looking to deliver a hit rather than take one, and West provides that.
Another thing West has that I value greatly in a runner is balance (see look, I bring stuff from the second sentence around eventually! Only takes about 1,400 words or so). Besides vision, there's nothing I value more in a running back than balance. It results in a player who isn't necessarily a bruising back to have the ability to bounce off tackles and gain crucial additional yardage.
Of course, exceptional balance allows for more than gaining extra yards after contact. One of the best traits Jamaal Charles has is his ability to accelerate WHILE he cuts. He's also able to maintain top speed while he changes direction due to his absolutely supernatural balance.
Let me be clear, I don't think West has that kind of "holy crap he's an alien" balance. However, his balance seems superb, and he's absolutely demonstrated the ability to make a cut without losing his north-south speed.
The ability to make quick, subtle cuts and maintain speed is crucial. West has that. Tough to bring down too. pic.twitter.com/rfPDry3nMY— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 16, 2015
When asked where I ranked the importance of running back traits, I ranked them as...
West has, over the course of this preseason, demonstrated solid ability in each of those four areas. His vision seems to be at least adequate, with his consistent ability to pick up yards when they're available. He maintains his balance through cuts and after contact (remember this play? Ridiculous). He's got solid speed and at least adequate strength.
In other words, West looks to possess all the qualities I look for in a back. In addition, he's got very soft hands as a receiver and demonstrates a mean streak in pass protection. I don't see any real weak spots in his game the way I do with Knile's vision / decisiveness.
Or to say it more bluntly, I see West as a better, more complete back than Knile Davis has shown himself to be at this point in his career. If it were up to me, I'd like to see West get a handful of chances against the Texans to see how he does in live action. He's earned the opportunity to show whether or not he's just another preseason hero or a guy who can help the team win games.
And as if that weren't enough ... the man's name is Charcandrick West, people. CHARCANDRICK WEST. There have been maybe, like, five names in the history of the NFL better than that. Let's not waste a chance like this, Andy.