One of the biggest dilemmas for Fantasy Football Owners is trying to decide whether a breakout player was just a flash in the pan or a rising star that gave us a glimpse of great things to come.
It happens every year, a player finishes the season with a good five or six-game stretch and is suddenly elevated to first round status.
In 2008, Houston Texans RB Steve Slaton had 1,282 yards rushing and scored nine rushing touchdowns. He also added 50 receptions for 377 yards and one receiving touchdown. Being a rookie, many people thought that 2010 would offer 1,800 to 2,000 combined yards and 12-15 total touchdowns, making him a popular first round or early second round pick. He responded with only 437 yards rushing, 417 yards receiving and seven touchdowns, four of which came in two games. People that picked him in the first or second round were having buyer's remorse by early October.
Conversely, Titans RB Chris Johnson had 1,228 yards rushing, 260 yards receiving and 10 total touchdowns in 2008. He was also a popular late first round to early second round choice. He responded with 2,006 yards rushing, 503 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns. Had people known what he was going to do, he would have been the first pick in the draft. People that found him in the second round found a steal.
Running back is a difficult position to predict, because each year college players burst out of nowhere to post amazing numbers and backs that were effective the year before just cannot stay healthy or effective two years in a row. Running back is a position that it is relatively easy to have one good year, but the average running back is lucky to make it three years in the NFL. Star players can become memories in a short period of time. With running backs typically being the top scorers in most fantasy formats, the good running backs usually go in the first two rounds and it makes the consequences of picking a bust even more painful.
A running back that Owners are going to struggle with in 2010 is Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles. The second-year back had 1,120 yards rushing, 297 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. Even more impressive is that he finished the season with four consecutive 100-yard games, 658 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns. If he can pick up where he left off, he will be worthy of a top five pick. The problem is nobody knows if he is the next Slaton or Johnson.
While nobody has a crystal ball, there are many positives for Charles.
He did not start slow due to ineffective play; he started slow because RB Larry Johnson was stealing the majority of the carries as the starter. In his first seven games, he only had 29 carries, as opposed to 161 carries in his next nine games after Johnson was suspended and later released. Charles will be the starter from day one in 2010, which should help increase his production. He is also going to be working with a new offensive coordinator in Charlie Weis, who has proven to be one of the best play callers in the NFL.
Corey Dillon thrived with Weis in the New England Patriots offense, rushing for 1,645 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004. Weis has always been running back friendly and that will also help Charles.
Also encouraging, he had some good games against good rushing defenses in 2009.
The Cincinnati Bengals allowed the seventh fewest points to running backs, but Charles still had 24 carries for 102 yards. San Diego was 17th against running backs and Denver was 18th against running backs. He combined for 408 yards rushing and four touchdowns, including 259 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale against Denver. Those are teams he will play twice next year and with Oakland ranking dead last in points allowed to running backs, he is going to have six games in the division that he could post solid numbers.
Factor in games against Buffalo, St. Louis, Seattle and Cleveland (all teams 25th or worse in points allowed to running backs) and the schedule looks ripe for a second big season. If he were playing in the AFC North against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati, the outlook would be much different. In the AFC West, the schedule sets up for him to be a star.
On the negative side, the Chiefs do not exactly have the strongest supporting cast.
The Chiefs wide receivers were 17th in fantasy points scored and their tight ends were 29th. That left QB Matt Cassel with just 2,924 yards passing, 16 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. Teams did not know about Charles coming into the 2009 season. They know all about him now and will be stacking the line of scrimmage with eight defenders to stop him. The other problem is that Charles has no proven backup, Kolby Smith was the most used running back not named Charles that is currently on the Chiefs roster. Smith had just 15 carries last year.
While that is good for fantasy owners that do not want their star running back in a running back by committee situation, it also means that there is no good handcuff on the roster and that he could wear down by the end of the season if he is forced to carry the ball 25 times a game with no other supporting stars. Nobody knows how he will hold up for a full 16-game schedule, because he has not done that yet. It makes taking him in the early rounds a more risky proposition.
My verdict is that I would not make Charles a top five pick; I think there is too much risk there seeing he has only had one good season and the Chiefs offense does have a lot of question marks. I would rather go with RBs like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner. Those are my top five fantasy backs; backs that either have had multiple top 10 fantasy seasons or that are on stronger and more balanced offenses than Kansas City, which makes them less risky.
That being said, I have Charles ranked No. 12 among all running backs and have an open enough mind to bump him up if the Chiefs make some noise in the offseason. He is a very good mid second round pick and would be a steal in the third round. You just want to make sure he is not your No. 1 running back, in case he has a 2009-Slaton type season.
While it is good to have optimism, you also want to be cautious; busts in the first round can come back to kill you. Charles is good enough to pencil in as a guy that you will start in 2010, just not good enough to pencil in as someone that can carry your squad.
By Derek Lofland, analyst at Fantasy Football Maniaxs