Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has been getting heat for a while now about one subject that universally frustrates any fan or fantasy player who follows his team: It is so obvious that Jamaal Charles is Kansas City's best running back, why does Charles not get more carries or other opportunities to make the offense go?
In 2010, Charles got 230 carries to Thomas Jones' 245. And while we'll bring more advanced stats to this argument, we'll start simple: Charles averaged 6.4 yards per carry, while Jones averaged 3.7. Oh, but Jones is the short-yardage back, you say? YPC isn't supposed to matter? Fine, but if that's the case, and Jones' job is to get those valuable first downs, how is it that he picked up only 39, while Charles blew it up with an amazing 70?
Jamaal Charles was good for a first down on 30.4 percent of his carries. Adrian Peterson tied Charles for fourth-most first downs in the NFL last season behind Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner, but it took Peterson 53 more carries to do that, which bumped his first-down percentage down to 24.7 percent.
Here's how Haley explained himself to SI.com's Peter King last week:
"We led the league in rushing,'' Haley said, "and all I ever hear is how we don't run the ball the right way because Jamaal's not getting it 25 times a game. It's anti-TEAM. The way fans looked at what we did on offense was so fantasy football driven. You know, the curse of the NFL -- the scroll on the bottom of the screen, with all the individual stats. Fortunately for us, Jamaal's such a good team player. He says, 'Coach, I get it. Whatever you want me to do, I'm here.'''
King adds that, "Haley's theory is he's eating the clock and keeping Charles healthy for 16 weeks, and he has zero regrets." And of course, that's all well and good. Charles is in a good situation in a lot of ways. He's got a great zone-blocking line in front of him that sets his talents up very nicely — it's almost impossible for an edge defender to contend with Charles if he gets a clean burst to the sideline — and the Chiefs gave him a nice new contract last year. But the myths about Charles are flawed. You can't look at him as the typical speed back. He may be 5-foot-11 and 199 pounds, but not every smaller back needs to be put in a box in favor of a lumbering and decidedly less effective second (or in Jones' case, first) option.
Haley has said that Charles is still learning blitz pickup? Well, according to Football Outsiders' game-charting numbers, Kansas City went with two tight ends 38 percent of the time, third-highest in the league. You've got blockers, dude. He's not an every-down back? Charles was actually one of the few in the league to put up positive DVOA (FO's primary opoponent-adjusted efficiency metric) on every down, while Jones racked up negative DVOA on every down. Haley's afraid of burning him out? From carries 11 through 20 per game, only Oakland's Darren McFadden (7.3) had a higher yards-per-carry average than Charles' 6.9.
We understand the importance of protecting your best assets. But there are exceptions, and here's one: When you have the next Chris Johnson in your backfield, and you're short on explosive plays overall (take away the 36 plays of 20 yards or more authored by Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe, and the rest of the team totaled 19 in 2010), it behooves you to throw caution to the wind and ride that special horse as long as he'll go. Haley's preference is to color outside the lines. In one preseason play this year, the call seemed to be for the 170-pound Dexter McCluster to cut back inside on a third-and-long, a play that should have been burned in a public ceremony.
It's hard to see outliers sometimes. Coaches think conservatively for a number of reasons, and as much as they say they'll assess each player differently, it's hard for them not to get caught up in types. Charles would seem for all the world to be that split-off back — a fantasy handcuff who's better off in a rotational role. But when you're dealing with this kind of talent, the landscape changes. The Chris Johnson comparison is apt with Charles as both backs exceed the expected means of production you normally get from their body types.
Haley is fortunate enough to have a special offensive weapon. There's no doubt that he's a great offensive coach, but why does he refuse to see the enormous benefits of Charles' rare palette? I talked to Haley about Charles on a conference call last year, and I know that he believes in the way he's using his best player. I don't think it's stubbornness.
But when so much evidence flies in the face and leans to the contrary ... underutilizing Jamaal Charles seems to be a tougher sell every day.