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Chiefs roster analysis: More needed at running back

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We’re still chugging along going through each of the Chiefs position groups while we evaluate the state of the roster before NFL free agency and the draft. Today’s article will be all about the running back position.

If you’d like to check out the prior articles you can do so here:

  1. Linebackers
  2. Defensive Backs
  3. Defensive Line
  4. Offensive Line

Let’s get rolling, shall we?

General Information

As we have in prior articles, let’s start by looking at the Chiefs total running back and fullback contracts heading into the 2017 season compared to the rest of the NFL.

The Chiefs currently have five running backs and one fullback under contract for the 2017 season. This is fairly average compared to the rest of the league.

This graph provides a fairly powerful message: The fullback position in the NFL is dwindling. There are 125 current running back contracts in the NFL as opposed to only 16 for full backs. (Using positional data from Pro Football Reference.)

Up next is the Chiefs total contract costs for their RB/FB positions.

Even after the Chiefs cut Jamaal Charles they currently spend the 11th most in running back and fullback contracts. I can see now why Jamaal Charles was on the chopping block even though it pains me to say such a thing. Later in the article we’ll see if any more cap room can be made by cutting any of the Chiefs other running backs.

The Chiefs have roughly $7.8 million of their cap space belonging to their running backs. Below is a table showing each of the Chiefs backfield members and their cap hits for 2017.

Chiefs Running Back Cap Hits

Name Age Cap Hit
Name Age Cap Hit
CJ Spiller 29 $615,000
Will Ratelle 24 $465,000
Darrin Reaves 23 $540,000
Anthony Sherman 28 $2,300,000
De'Anthony Thomas 24 $803,527
Spencer Ware 25 $1,745,833
Charcandrick West 25 $1,152,083

(Please forgive me, I used CJ Spiller’s total cash deal of $775k in the graphs above, the actual hit is $615k according to Spotrac.) We’ll talk more about Spiller later...

The most notable player contract in the Chiefs backfield is Anthony Sherman, who is - get this - the highest paid Chiefs running back.

Now let’s take a look at what percentage of their cap dollars the Chiefs utilize towards their running backs and fullbacks.

The Chiefs spend about 4.8 percent of their cap dollars on the running back position which is fairly average in the NFL.

Meanwhile Green Bay’s over there in the NFC all like “Running back? Eh, who needs ‘em. In fact we just use our wide receivers.” While I’ve been writing these articles I have seen no team need a player more than the Packers need a running back. I’ll call it a position of need on steroids.

About CJ Spiller

I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about CJ Spiller, and how he may fit in with the Chiefs current running back puzzle.

The above graph shows Spiller’s yards and carries as he has aged over the course of his career.

Spiller has been on a downward trajectory over the last four years. His NFL career appears to be slowly coming to an end. I hope he can make things work in Kansas City, but if we’re being honest Spiller may not even make the Chiefs 53-man roster in 2017.

Spiller was brought to Kansas City to compete for a roster spot and due to his ability to catch the football out of the backfield. I believe he would have to beat out a much younger Charcandrick West to win a roster spot.

Age

The average age of a Chiefs running back is 25.43 years of age. This puts them in the bottom half of the NFL.

This number could drop if the Chiefs were to part ways with Spiller and/or Sherman. The number could also change if the Chiefs decided to draft a running back this year.

Cost Effectiveness

There were four stats I decided to focus for the running back position: rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards per attempt, and receiving yards.

We’ll start by looking at the cost efficiency of the Chiefs running backs compared to the rest of the NFL in regards to rushing yards.

The Chiefs are roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of cost efficiency regarding rushing yards. This tells me that Dorsey has done a fair job negotiating the Chiefs running back position’s contracts.

Now let’s look at rushing touchdowns.

(Note: Some outliers were omitted)

The Chiefs are second to last in the NFL in terms of cost efficiency in regards to rushing touchdowns. The Chiefs running backs did a very poor job of getting the ball into the end zone.

This is something all Chiefs fans are familiar with. It’s pretty bad when your 30-plus year old starting quarterback has more rushing touchdowns than your entire running back corps.

Let’s move on to yards per attempt.

Note: Pittsburgh’s data point shouldn’t be included because Le’Veon Bell’s contract is not included. I chose not to include it because he and the Steelers are still working on a deal.

There are two interesting features regarding this graph. We’ll start with the line. The line represents the idea that teams who spend more on the running back position should have higher yards per carry. Teams who are above the line exceed expectations, teams who are below the line are below expectations, and teams who are on the line are par for the course.

According to this data, the Chiefs are par for the course in terms of their yards per carry output and the money spent to obtain that output.

The second feature of the graph I want to talk about is the cluster of running back groups that are making a total of $4 million a year. Typically, these graphs have had a somewhat linear distribution, but the cluster of teams who spend about $4 million dollars towards their running back position was odd to me.

I am not sure why this cluster exists. Maybe there’s some magic regarding the $4 million dollar number. I’m not sure. It’s curious to say the least.

Lastly let’s look at receiving yards.

The Chiefs are getting fair value out of their running back group in terms of their ability to catch the football.

Queue the Alex Smith check down conversation in 3, 2, 1 ..... GO.

Trimming Some Cap Fat

Below is a list of the four most expensive Chiefs running backs, their cap hits, and their dead money.

Name Cap Hit Pre-June 1 Cut Dead Money Pre-June 1 Cut Cap Savings Post-June 1 Cut Dead Money Post-June 1 Cut Cap Savings
Name Cap Hit Pre-June 1 Cut Dead Money Pre-June 1 Cut Cap Savings Post-June 1 Cut Dead Money Post-June 1 Cut Cap Savings
Anthony Sherman $2,300,000 $500,000 $1,800,000 $500,000 $1,800,000
Spencer Ware $1,745,833 $6,666,667 $1,079,166 $333,333 $1,412,500
Charcandrick West $1,152,083 $6,666,667 $485,416 $333,333 $818,750
CJ Spiller $615,000 $0 $615,000 $0 $615,000

Note: Spotrac and Over the Cap had conflicting amounts for CJ Spiller’s cap hit. I went with Spotrac’s number.

Two of the running backs on this list jump out as potential roster cuts. The first is CJ Spiller. If the Chiefs don’t feel like Spiller can contribute they will not have a difficult time cutting him since he would leave zero dollars worth of dead money on the table.

The second running back is Anthony Sherman. Sherman played in roughly 16 percent of the Chiefs offensive snaps during the 2016 season. Sherman also played in about 76 percent of the Chiefs special teams snaps in 2016. Sherman does have value as a special teams player, but the Chiefs front office may decide Sherman’s contract is too expensive; especially if they have their backs to the salary cap wall.

I know Sherman is a great blocker, and he’s a solid special teams player, but he has had a total of 45 yards from scrimmage over the past two seasons. However, I think he is well-liked by Andy Reid and Dave Toub (and fans) so I have no clue which direction this could go.

Going Forward

The primary place the Chiefs are likely to be looking for their next running back will be in the NFL Draft as there aren’t too many good value running backs hitting free agency. (As I type this watch Dorsey pull a rabbit out of his hat and find the second coming of Priest Holmes. Good for you Dorsey, you’re the man.)

I believe the Chiefs currently have the following weaknesses regarding their running game.

  1. Lack a true speed back who can complement Ware.
  2. Lack a quality running back to take some of the pressure and wear and tear off of Ware as the season progresses.
  3. Lack a running back with a nose for the end zone.

We all witnessed Spencer Ware slow down as the season progressed. That may have been due to some nagging injuries, or it could have been due to Ware’s physical running style.

I believe this is a good year for the speed back in the draft. Below are some running backs that I believe fit the mold and may have a good chance to succeed in the NFL.

  • Dalvin Cook
  • Alvin Kamara
  • Christian McCaffrey
  • Joe Mixon
  • Marlon Mack
  • Many other late round running backs

Of that group, Kamara is my favorite. He doesn’t come out of college with a huge amount of carries which is important for the longevity of most NFL running backs.

Conclusion

OK, we covered a lot of information here - let’s recap.

  1. The Chiefs running back group is fairly average in the NFL age-wise
  2. Dorsey has gotten fair value out of his running back contracts in terms of rushing yards, yards per carry, and receiving yards
  3. Dorsey has gotten very poor value from his running back group in terms of their ability to punch the ball into the end zone
  4. The Chiefs may be looking for a back in the draft to complement Spencer Ware
  5. Both CJ Spiller and Anthony Sherman are potential cap casualties if things run a little tight after free agency.
  6. It appears the 2017 draft may have some decent running backs and I could potentially see Dorsey drafting a back in any round.
  7. Overall, the Chiefs running back group was fairly average in 2016 and the position needs an upgrade if the Chiefs offense wants to continue to grow.

Who’s your running back draft crush? And what round do you think the Chiefs should draft a running back in?

In the next article we’ll cover the Chiefs wide receivers and tight ends. See you there!