OAKLAND CA - NOVEMBER 07: Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs against Tyvon Branch #33 and Ricky Brown #57 of the Oakland Raiders during an NFL game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on November 7 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones are all going to be counted on heavily again next season if this team is going to take the next step.
The Kansas City Chiefs led the NFL in rushing in 2010 with 164.2 yards per game. They were led by Jamaal Charles who led the NFL with an astounding 6.38 yards per carry and finished just 4.6 yards away from having the all-time record held by Jim Brown.
The Chiefs did the best thing they could last year by signing Charles to a five-year extension. The great thing about the extension is that the Chiefs did not have to overpay to keep him in Kansas City. Charles signed a five-year $32.5 million deal last season. Some other notable running back contracts would include Steven Jackson of the Rams signing a five-year $48.5 million deal in 2008, Clinton Portis had signed a six-year $49.1 million deal in 2006 with the Washington Redskins, and Larry Johnson had signed a six-year $45 million deal with Kansas City in 2007. Looking at this deal and the player KC has in Charles it's hard for Chiefs fans to not be excited.
Charles obviously likes Kansas City, where the organization is headed and wanted to be here -- a good thing since he is a major part of the team's resurgence. The Chiefs entire offense is planned around having an effective running game. With the addition of Rodney Hudson and Jon Baldwin during this past draft they have some very young, talented players all over the offensive side of the ball. With Charles leading this offense into the future there is no reason to think that the Chiefs won't be making some noise in the AFC over the next few years.
But what about the other players at the running back position? One of the more important pickups of last offseason was free agent signee, Thomas Jones. The running back that had just recently been let go by the New York Jets saw something he liked about where the Chiefs were heading and wanted to be a part of it. Jones and Charles combined to lead the NFL in rushing last season, and it was still a major contention amongst Chiefs fans that Jones was getting too many carries. There is something to be said for those who think that Charles would have had even better numbers if they had decided to give him the ball 6-8 more times per game.
But then there are those who believe that Charles wouldn't be nearly as effective if he was getting worn down and taking all of those extra hits, like what we saw in the Baltimore game. The only thing known quantity is that we led the NFL in rushing, Jamaal Charles had the second-most effective season in NFL history, and Charles has given loads of respect and admiration for what his ‘big brother', Jones, has taught and showed him since arriving in Kansas City.
Although he did help the Chiefs lead the league in rushing last season it's no secret that Jones is getting a little long in the tooth. Head coach Todd Haley did say that he wanted to see Jones drop a few pounds and get a little quicker for next season so he obviously has a plan for Jones and this offense heading into next season. The Chiefs also have Dexter McCluster and Haley was quoted after the season as saying that they are going to use McCluster more out of the backfield next season. We don't know yet if it's primarily as a 3rd down back or in some other capacity.
Dexter McCluster is the one weapon the Chiefs have on offense that fans should expect the biggest rise in production out of for next season. He injured his ankle early last season and that really seemed to take away some of the explosiveness that we saw on opening night against the San Diego Chargers. It's impossible to say that one play, especially in the first week, made a significant difference in the outcome of a season but from a fans perspective that play changed the fans' outlook on that game, which in fact changed the outlook for the season. It was the "maybe we can win this game", then it became, "maybe we're better than we thought", to "we can take this division and go to the playoffs". Tens of thousands of fans experienced these thoughts in the warmth of their living rooms, or the lucky ones from a cold, wet view at Arrowhead Stadium. Wherever you happen to be that night you'll remember that play for a very, very long time.
There are other running backs who could find themselves taking on a bigger role with the team as Jackie Battle, Mike Cox, Tim Castille and the just-drafted Shane Bannon fight for their spots on the roster come next season. Of these players Tim Castille is the player that is most-likely not to have a spot on the team next season. He is considered a free agent whenever the CBA is agreed upon and based on what his agent is saying, and the fact the Chiefs just drafted a fullback in Shane Bannon, it's fair to say that Castille will most likely not be a Chief next season.
Jackie Battle would love to see his play in the preseason translate into the regular season and he might get his chance this-coming season to show he has a role with this team in the future. Cox and Bannon will be battling in camp and preseason for the starting fullback role and they should both play a role on special teams.
The running back position is easily the most exciting position on offense to talk about for the Kansas City Chiefs. Jamaal Charles is already a top five running back in this league, Thomas Jones is providing a service to this team that cannot be shown on any stat page, and Dexter McCluster might be the most explosive player on this team when healthy. If the Chiefs as a team are going to get where they want to go it's going to be these running backs that are going to set the pace for the entire team to reach their goals.