Chiefs still have room for backfield addition

Posted Apr 12, 2012

Selecting a running back in the middle rounds of the NFL Draft could be an appealing option for Kansas City

Provided Jamaal Charles remains on pace for a healthy return, the Chiefs rushing attack should feature a potent one-two punch with the addition of Peyton Hillis this offseason.

Dexter McCluster should also be in line for his fair share of touches out of the backfield, though it remains to be seen whether new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll will continue to feature the versatile player exclusively at running back. McCluster often aligned out of the slot as a rookie before transitioning into a full-time running back last season.

But even with Charles, Hillis and McCluster in the fold, Kansas City has room to address the position in this year’s draft.

The key to Kansas City’s running game remains the health of Charles’ rehabilitated left knee. Charles is on pace to make a full return by training camp, but the ultimate test won’t occur until he takes the field and participates in full football activities – explosive bursts, cutting and, of course, contact.

By the time Kansas City opens camp, 10 months will have passed since Charles tore his left ACL.

With that said, the NFL offers a mixed bag when it comes to running backs and ACL rehabilitation. Technology has advanced both treatment and recovery, but each individual situation remains unique.

Former Ravens and Browns RB Jamal Lewis is one of the NFL’s most notable ACL success stories.

After tearing his knee in 2001, Lewis bounced back to rush for 1,327 yards (4.3 avg.) the next season. Then, in 2003, Lewis led the NFL with 2,066 rushing yards (5.3 avg.) and added 14 TDs.

For most backs, however, a full return takes a more time.

Edgerrin James tore his ACL in 2001 after rushing for more than 1,500 yards each of his first two NFL seasons. He failed to break the 1,000-yard barrier in 2002 and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. James then rattled off five consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns from 2003-07.

Some call this the “two-year” rule as many running backs seem to need at least one full season before they return to pre-injury form.

Unfortunately, some running backs never rebound after suffering a significant knee injury.

Former No. 1 overall pick Ki-Jana Carter is a poster boy for an ACL tear derailing a promising career. Carter tore his ACL during the 1995 preseason and averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in 1996. He’d never rush for more than 500 yards in a single season at the NFL level.

Carter obviously didn’t benefit from today’s medical advancements either.

One thing Charles has working for him is his age. He’s just 25 years old. Younger players have historically bounced back quicker than their veteran counterparts.

Charles also has a three-month head start on the recovery process in comparison to Adrian Peterson of Minnesota and Rashard Mendenhall of Pittsburgh. Each suffered knee tears late last season.

Regardless, Charles’ recovery leaves the door open for the Chiefs to add another running back to the mix. Perhaps in the middle rounds of the draft.

"I think it's another solid class," GM Scott Pioli said of this year’s running backs class at the NFL Combine. "There are a number of underclassmen making it another solid class of running backs. I think overall, the entire draft, it's a really solid class all along."

Kansas City carried four running backs and a fullback on its 53-man roster last season. While the team’s fullback approach remains intriguing (we recently discussed possible approaches here), the need for a situational back that can also play special teams is present.

Jackie Battle served in that capacity as a short-yardage back and core-four special teamer before injuries called for an increased role last season. But even when Battle began receiving double-digit carries he continued to cover kicks.

Charles isn’t going to play special teams and neither is Hillis. McCluster won’t factor on special teams beyond his role as a return man. If the Chiefs target a running back in this year’s draft, that player will need to contribute on special teams.

Plus, Hillis is only on a one-year deal.

Shaun Draughn, who was promoted from the practice squad Week 17 last season, will get an opportunity to compete for a reserve job. The Chiefs also previously indicated they’d like to re-sign Battle, though he remains an unrestricted free agent and took a visit to San Diego last month.

Assuming the Chiefs don’t select Alabama’s Trent Richardson in the first round and Doug Martin’s rising stock also puts him out of reach, here are some of the intriguing mid-round backs that could fit.

Chris Polk | 5'10” | 224 pounds | Washington
Huskies workhorse is strong, can catch and protects the football. Could go off the board as early as the 2nd round.

Vick Ballard | 5'10” | 217 pounds | Mississippi State
Between the tackles runner is a player many believe will translate well into the pro game. Rushed for 29 TDs in two seasons with the Bulldogs.

Terrance Ganaway | 5'11” | 241 pounds | Baylor
They say he runs like a bull in a china shop, which suits the role Battle played in KC last season.

Cyrus Gray | 5'10” | 198 pounds | Texas A&M
Known as a leader and is a versatile all-purpose back. Split carries with Christine Michael for the Aggies and could be a nice complimentary player in the NFL.

Robert Turbin | 5'10” | 215 pounds | Utah State
One of two Utah State RBs likely to get drafted this year. Productive when healthy. Built like a player who can also contribute on special teams.

Isaiah Pead | 5'9” | 193 pounds | Cincinnati
Senior Bowl MVP could be a good fit if the Chiefs give McCluster increased looks at wide receiver. Can also serve as a return man.

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