Another glorious NFL season is nearly upon us and that means the fantasy football season has finally arrived. And as always, the start of another season means there’s a whole new crop of burning questions for football fans. One of the biggest inquiries facing fantasy owners entering the 2012 draft season is “Where do we rank Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles?”
There’s no denying Charles’s talents. The multifaceted speedster was a top ten overall fantasy selection last season. But his 2011 campaign ended abruptly during a Week 2 visit to Detroit when Charles suffered a torn ACL in his left knee. He would end the season with a mere 83 yards rushing, nine additional receiving yards and a single touchdown.
Road to Recovery
The only good news to come out of the season-ending injury was that it occurred so early in the year. Recovering from an ACL injury usually takes a minimum of nine to twelve months. That timetable put Charles at a point where he is nearing completion of his rehabilitation.
In the May mini-camps, Charles said he was about 80% healed. As the off-season progressed, so did the knee. In fact, Charles is expected to take the field in limited action in Friday’s preseason opener for Kansas City. Though he isn’t likely to see many carries this summer, it’s a promising sign that he’s nearly fully healed.
It’s not unprecedented for an NFL running back to return to fantasy relevance the year after a catastrophic knee injury. Jamal Lewis, Deuce McAllister, Ronnie Brown and others have put up usable fantasy stats the season after going down, but failed to reach their own lofty, pre-injury production.
Generally, it takes a running back two full seasons to fully recover from a torn ACL. We can hope that Charles will return to his 2010 form, but history says that it may be 2013 before he’s there…if ever. On top of his own instinct to favor his knee, JC Superstar has other obstacles that may limit him this season.
Though not a memorable season for Kansas City fans, 2011 ended on a high note for the Chiefs. The team rallied around interim head coach Romeo Crennel and enter 2012 with playoff aspirations in a lackluster AFC West. Crennel made the Chiefs defense quite formidable last year and will look to implement a conservative offensive game-plan with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Daboll’s claim to fame is resurrecting rushing attacks. He coached Cleveland in 2010 and we saw Peyton Hillis go from little-used fullback-hybrid to fantasy football hero. In 2011, Daboll moved on to Miami and helped the Dolphins improve to the 20th ranked offense in the league and turned Reggie Bush into the fantasy star we all thought he was going to be in 2006.
While Daboll works magic with the running game, the passing attack is less inspiring. Matt Cassel is a serviceable quarterback, but unlikely to ever reach the next level. Tight end Tony Moeaki is also recovering from a season-ending injury, and superstar wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is holding out in a contract dispute.
The Chiefs are going to go against the grain in 2012. The NFL may be a pass-happy league, but Kansas City is more likely to be at or near the top in rushing attempts. They’re going to rely on their improving young defense to keep the opposition in check, and to establish a smash-mouth, dual-threat rushing attack to set up play-action opportunities downfield.
Romeo Crennel and Brian Daboll know that Jamaal Charles will be the key to their offensive success. Look for him to be brought along slowly until he and the coaching staff are assured that the left knee is fully recovered. Expect a healthy dose of Peyton Hillis early on.
While Daboll knows how to utilize Hillis, he won’t repeat the heavy workload that caused Hillis to fade down the stretch in 2010. This looks like a return to the Chiefs two-back system of 2008-2009 with Charles returning to his game-breaker role, and Hillis in place of Thomas Jones.
Expect Jamaal Charles to get about 12-15 carries a game and be heavily utilized in the passing game. He’ll almost assuredly cede all goal line carries to the bigger Hillis, so his touchdown numbers could remain fairly low.
It’s unreasonable to expect Charles to maintain his 6+ yards per attempt average, but if he can approach 5.0, he has a excellent shot at 900-1000 rushing yards and catching about 50 passes. Throw in half a dozen scores and you have a very good fantasy RB2 that is currently still on the board in the top of the third round in most early fantasy football drafts. And that makes him an appealing asset for fantasy football owners to consider on draft day.
Senior Writer Gridiron Experts. 2012 FantasyPros Most Accurate Fantasy Expert. Member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. 26-year fantasy football veteran. Featured on NFL.com, Fantasypros, Football Diehards annual magazine, local AM sports radio, podcasts everywhere and SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Once scored 4 touchdowns in a single game for Polk High School.