When Andy Reid touched down in Kansas City, the glee surrounding the rising fantasy potential of Jamaal Charles was instant. Which, in turn, was pretty impressive, because in Charles we have a running back who chugged for 1,509 yards on the ground in 2012 after recovering from a thoroughly sliced and diced knee. That included two games with over 200 yards, and another one with 165. He didn’t pretend to be normal.
But there was still an element missing which would have taken Charles from an elite 192 fantasy points, to something even better than elite, if that exists.
He needs a greater presence in the passing game, and it’s coming. We assumed as much when Reid signed on in Kansas City due to his love for passing the football, and intermittent disregard for the rules which dictate that running is permitted. Often in Philadelphia with LeSean McCoy screens of all varieties would be treated as carries, which is how he recorded two seasons with +40 receptions, highlighted by 2011 when he had a career high 592 receiving yards.
In many ways, Charles is a McCoy clone, which also makes him ideally suited for a team that will now be under the direction of Reid. He can pound it when he has to, but that’s not necessarily his game. He sees the hole, hits the hole, and he’s gone. Often long gone too, as this past season he had touchdown runs of 86, 80, and 91 yards. Yeah, that doesn’t leave much more field on those runs.
Essentially, if you give Charles space — any space at all — he’s gone, which of course means he excels off the edge too. That’s why he could quickly thrive in a system which gives him the ball a lot more as a receiver, and judging by recent comments from new offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, the assumptions we made when Reid was hired were correct.
Pederson did much more Charles-related beaming and hyperventilating recently when he spoke to Fox Sports Kansas City, saying that Charles has repeatedly shown his dynamic ability as a receiver during the team’s OTAs (via Rotoworld):
“You’ve seen him sprint out of the single receiver, and he’ll come out of the backfield,” Pederson continued. “He’s a guy that needs to move around, and (one) you can put in different positions, motion out the back, shift him from the backfield. He catches the ball so well that you have to take advantage of that offensively.”
That’s a lot places to put up a lot of numbers.
Charles’ best receiving season came with his 45 catches in 2010 that he turned into 468 yards. But that yardage is a bit of an outlier, as he didn’t pass the 300-yard mark in any of his other three healthy seasons.
Here’s the highest, most optimistic, and possibly too ambitious upside then. With Alex Smith and his lack of arm strength and habit of checking down early throughout his progressions, Charles should be targeted even more often than McCoy was under Reid. That will result in Charles maintaining his elite rushing pace, while also beginning to approach Darren Sproles’ receiving pace.
You’re thinking I ate too many Oreos for lunch, and you may be right. But consider that despite missing a quarter of the season in 2012, McCoy was still targeted 67 times, even while he dealt with a developing Nick Foles. Then looking a little further back, during his best receiving season McCoy was targeted 90 times, and that resulted in nearly 40 yards per game. Returning to Sproles — who’s consistently the best pass-catching running back in the league — he was targeted 104 times in 2012, and 111 in 2011.
Charles won’t quite reach that height, because no one does. But he may only be a step or two behind Sproles in his target volume, especially in an offense which will now likely emphasize quick-strike passing. So let’s entertain this day dream for a second here, and do the math on Charles’ 2013 season if he has 1,500 rushing yards and 450 receiving yards. That’s 195 points on the yardage alone, meaning a jump of 264 receiving yards would put Charles in Ray Rice territory (about 230 fantasy points) once we include his touchdowns (he had six last year).