2012 Chiefs Walkthrough & AFC West Rankings: Running Backs




While the Kansas City Chiefs have been looking (kind of) for a franchise quarterback for forever now, they haven’t had much trouble finding stud running backs throughout the years. The Chiefs have had a rich history when it comes to the tailback position.

Abner Haynes, Curtis McClinton, Mike Garrett, Ed Podolak, Joe Delaney, Christian Okoye, Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and now, Jamaal Charles.

That’s quite a list of great running backs that this franchise has had come through town.

And with the return of one of the best running backs in the NFL today in Charles, and the addition of the bruising Peyton Hillis coming over from the Cleveland Browns, the running back position in 2012 is again a strength for the Chiefs.

JAMAAL CHARLES (5’11, 199lbs, Age 25, 5th season)

2011: 2 GP, 12 rush/83 yds (6.9 avg), 5 rec/9yds 1 TD

Taken with the Chiefs’ first pick in the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL Draft, Jamaal Charles has been one of, if not the best running back in the NFL since then. After only carrying the ball 67 times for 357 yards (5.3 avg) in his rookie season with the Chiefs, Charles exploded in the second half of his sophomore campaign after Kansas City released Larry Johnson mid-way through the 2009 season. Johnson’s release gave Charles the bulk of the carries and he took full advantage of it as he ran for 1,120 yards and 7 TDs in only 190 carries (5.9 avg), along with 40 catches for 297 yards and 1 TD.

To back that up, Charles decided to have a historical 2010 season: 230 carries for 1,467 yards (6.38 avg) and 5 TDs to go along with 45 catches for 468 yards and 3 receiving TDs. Charles just barely missed the single season record for yards per carry of 6.40 set by Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown in 1963. Charles was just 2 hundredths of a yard away from the record with a 6.38 average in 230 carries. The 3rd year running back from Texas was voted to his first Pro Bowl and was also named to the 2010 All-Pro team.

It truly was a special season for Jamaal Charles and he was determined to repeat it in 2011. Unfortunately for Charles and the Chiefs, his season came to an abrupt end in only the second game of the season in Detroit against the Lions. Charles tore his ACL in his left knee after lunging for a first down along the Lions’ sideline in the first quarter. Just like that, Charles’ season was over and a long road of recovery was ahead of him.

At full strength, Charles is one of the fastest players in the league with his insane acceleration, quickness, footwork, balance and elusiveness to go along with incredible vision. It’s usually the second season back from a torn ACL that a player returns to or close to his previous form, but the positive about Charles’ injury, as well as with teammates’ Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki, is that it happened in the beginning of the season, giving him a full season and offseason to recover.

Still, it’s hard to assume that Charles will be 100% and back to form right away. It will probably take him a little while to fully trust his knee again. Because of that, it was a smart move by the Chiefs to go out and replace the ineffective Thomas Jones with the perfect complement to Charles…

 PEYTON HILLIS (6’2, 250lbs, Age 26, 5th season)

2011: 10 GP, 161 rush/587 yds (3.6 avg), 3 TD, 22 rec/130 yds

In Peyton Hillis, the Chiefs get a bruising 250lb bulldozer to complement the speedy and shifty Charles. Coming over from Cleveland, Hillis is only two years removed from a 1,117 yard and 11 TD season in 2010 to go along with 61 receptions for 447 yards and 2 TDs. 2011 however was a disappointing year for Hillis. Injuries definitely hampered Hillis all year and playing on a bad team didn’t help, especially after a breakout campaign as defenses were keying on him and letting Colt McCoy try and beat them.

Hopefully getting healthy and a change of scenery will help Hillis get back to form. Hillis signed a one year deal for $3 million, so it’s a good possibility that this will be his only year in KC, especially if he performs like he did in 2010, he’ll most likely get a multiple year deal for more money elsewhere.

As for this year, if Hillis can return to form and Charles is close to 100%, the Chiefs running game will be just as scary as it was in 2010. The signing of one of the best right tackles in the game in Eric Winston and replacing the aging and smaller Casey Weigmann with second year man Rodney Hudson at center makes the Chiefs’ offensive line one of the best in the league.

Charles and Hillis are the thunder and lightning 1-2 punch for the Chiefs running game and will get the majority of the carries, but a newcomer in the backfield could get some time in his rookie season…

 CYRUS GRAY (5’10, 198lbs, Age 22, Rookie)

2011: Texas A&M – 13 GP, 198 rush/1,045 yds (5.3 avg), 12 TD, 31 rec/239 yds, 3 TD

With the 182nd pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected running back Cyrus Gray from Texas A&M to add some depth to the backfield. The 6th round pick was one of the best running backs in the Big 12 in his last three seasons and was one of the best value picks in the entire draft in my opinion.

Gray could turn out to be a steal. He possesses pretty good speed, good vision, quick feet and he runs low to the ground. For a 5’10, 198lb back, he is actually very capable of running inside the tackles, not just outside. Gray is also a very good pass protector and receiver out of the backfield, which could help his chances for playing time even more.

DEXTER MCCLUSTER (5’8, 170lbs, Age 23, 3rd season)

2011: 16 GP, 114 rush/516 yds (4.5 avg), 1 TD, 46 rec/328 yds, 1 TD

In order for Gray to get some carries this season, that means third year WR/RB Dexter McCluster will not be much of a factor in the running game in 2012. McCluster averaged 4.5 yards a carry last season, to go along with 46 receptions for 328 yards, but the second round pick from Ole Miss has not lived up to where he was drafted (36th overall). With the addition of Hillis and Gray, as well as rookie Devon Wylie at WR, McCluster seems to be getting pushed out.

McCluster was listed as a WR during OTA’s and mini-camp, we’ll see where he’s at in training camp and pre-season, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him more at WR than RB.


SHAUN DRAUGHN (6’0, 205lbs, Age 24, 2nd season)

NATE EACHUS (5’10, 212lbs, Age 22, Rookie)


1). Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (2011: 2 GP, 12 rush/83 yds (6.9 avg), 0 TD, 5 rec/9yds 1 TD) – If 100% and back to his old self, Charles is easily the best running back in the AFC West and arguably the best in the entire league. And because Charles tore his ACL in Week Two last season, he’s had almost an entire year to recover. He’s only 25 years old as well and in four seasons, Charles has only carried the ball 499 times. Compare that to former Chief Larry Johnson who ran it an NFL record 416 times in 2006. Charles doesn’t have a lot of mileage on him. Even though it’s usually the second year back from a torn ACL that a player is fully recovered and back to his old self, Charles could be one of the few exceptions. And even if he’s not completely the same back this season, he’ll still be very effective.

2). Darren McFadden, Raiders (2011: 7 GP, 113 rush/614 yds (5.4 avg), 4 TD, 19 rec/154 yds, 1 TD) – Another elite level running back that was hampered by injuries last year. Darren McFadden was on pace for a monster season before suffering the dreaded Lisfranc foot injury against the Chiefs in Week Seven, which sidelined him for the final nine games of the season. If McFadden is back to 100% and injury free throughout the season, he should again put up some huge numbers for the Raiders. He’ll probably put up better overall numbers than Charles because of the addition of Hillis to take carries away and the fact that the Chiefs will probably bring Charles along slowly in the beginning of the season. All in all, if McFadden is healthy, he will produce.

3). Ryan Mathews, Chargers (2011: 14 GP, 222 rush/1,091 yds (4.9 avg), 6 TD, 50 rec/455 yds) – While Ryan Mathews had a very productive second season for the Chargers in 2011, many people believe this will be the year that Mathews truly breaks out. With little depth behind Mathews, he should be getting the majority of the carries again for San Diego. Mathews averaged 4.9 yards per carry last season and was a great receiver out of the backfield trying to replace Darren Sproles in that role. Mathews is a notch below Charles and McFadden in my opinion, but he’s still a very good running back and should have a breakout year this season if he can remain healthy.

4). Willis McGahee, Broncos (2011: 15 GP, 249 rush/1,199 yds (4,8 avg), 4 TD, 12 rec/51 yds, 1 TD) – 2011 was a comeback type of season for 10 year veteran Willis McGahee. With the help of Tim Tebow and the system they ran with him under center, McGahee averaged 4.8 yards per carry and ran for over 1,000 yards for the first time since 2007 when he was a member of the Baltimore Ravens. McGahee is definitely aging as he will turn 31 later this season and 10 years in the NFL for a running back is getting up there. With the addition of Peyton Manning, the Broncos will definitely be throwing the ball more this season and it looks like Denver will want to incorporate their third round pick in Ronnie Hillman into the offense. McGahee won’t put up the numbers he put up last year, but I think he’ll still be a solid running back for Denver in his 10th season.

5). Peyton Hillis, Chiefs (2011: 10 GP, 161 rush/587 yds (3.6 avg), 3 TD, 22 rec/130 yds) – Definitely the best “back-up” or second option at RB in the AFC West. The combo of Hillis and Charles will strike fear into defenses…if they’re both healthy. Hillis is coming off a disappointing final year in Cleveland after breaking out big time in 2010. With Hillis healthy and motivated, I think we’ll see the Peyton Hillis that was bulldozing over defenders for 4.4 yards a carry like he was in 2010.

6). Mike Goodson, Raiders (2011: 4 GP, 1 rec/4 yds) – Coming over in a trade with the Carolina Panthers during the offseason, Goodson has a good shot at winning the backup job behind Darren McFadden for the Raiders. Goodson had a solid sophomore campaign for the Panthers in 2010, but only got on the field for four games last season and didn’t have a single carry. That will change this season, and with McFadden’s injury history, Goodson could get some serious carries for the Raiders.

7). Ronnie Hillman, Broncos (2011: SDSU – 13 GP, 311 rush/1,711 yds (5.5 avg), 19 TD, 24 rec/270 yds, 1 TD – The third round pick out of San Diego St. has a chance to be a real game breaker for the Broncos in his rookie year. With Hillman’s speed, he seems to fit very well in the offense that Peyton Manning runs. As a Mizzou fan, I remember Hillman very well as he ran for 228 yards on 23 carries with 2 explosive TD runs for 75 and 93 yards against my Tigers in 2010. Hillman has a good chance to develop into the Broncos eventual starter and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get the majority of the carries over Willis McGahee as the season goes on. 

8). Ronnie Brown, Chargers (2011: 16 GP, 42 rush/136 yds (3.2 avg), 1 TD) – The 8-year veteran who spent his first seven seasons with the Miami Dolphins, comes over from the Eagles to back up Ryan Mathews in San Diego. Brown didn’t do much with Philly last season, so who knows how much he has left in the tank. But the Chargers don’t have much else behind Mathews, so Brown could be the second option behind him.

9). Taiwan Jones, Raiders (2011: 10 GP, 16 rush/73 yds (4.6 avg), 2 rec/25 yds) – The second year speedster from Eastern Washington looks to step his game up from his rookie season and become the change of pace back the Raiders need behind McFadden and Goodson. Jones has electric speed and quickness, but needs to stay healthy as he had trouble doing so last year. If he can, I think we’ll see Jones make some big plays this season for Oakland.

10). Cyrus Gray, Chiefs (2011: 13 GP, 198 rush/1,045 yds (5.3 avg), 12 TD, 31 rec/239 yds, 3 TD) – Gray could carve himself a role with the Chiefs in his rookie season, even though Charles and Hillis will get the bulk of the carries for Kansas City. Gray can pass block and catch the ball out of the backfield to go along with his good speed and vision. Gray could develop into the Chiefs’ primary backup RB in 2013 as Hillis is only signed on for one year with KC.

11). Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (2011: 7 GP, 37 rush/179 yds (4.8 avg), 11 rec/101 yds, 1 TD) – I think it’s safe to say the first round pick out of Georgia has been a bit of a bust thus far for the Denver Broncos. Moreno showed some promise in his second year and looked to build off that in 2011. But Moreno only got 37 carries in seven games for Denver last year and then tore his ACL in mid-November, ending his season. With the addition of Ronnie Hillman and of course the severity of a torn ACL, it doesn’t look like Moreno will be contributing much for the Broncos in 2012.


1). Kansas City Chiefs (Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Cyrus Gray, Dexter McCluster)

2). Oakland Raiders (Darren McFadden, Mike Goodson, Taiwan Jones)

3). Denver Broncos (Willis McGahee, Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball)

4). San Diego Chargers (Ryan Mathews, Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley, Edwin Baker)

The Chiefs definitely have the best running back unit in the AFC West and one of the best 1-2 punches in the NFL in Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. Cyrus Gray looks promising and Dexter McCluster, while a disappointment overall so far, has some ability. The Raiders come up next with Darren McFadden, if healthy, one of the best running backs in the NFL. Mike Goodson and another explosive back in Taiwan Jones back up McFadden. Denver has the fourth best starting RB in my opinion in McGahee, but they have better depth than San Diego does with the promising Ronnie Hillman him up. San Diego has Ryan Mathews, and that’s about it.