Previously during this series in which I’ve debated a topic with no one but myself, we’ve discussed the merits of both Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster as the No. 1 overall pick in your upcoming fantasy drafts, if you’re lucky enough to be the guy who gets to screw up said pick.
Ar first it seems like a race that involves only two horses, which consequently seems like a race rife with boredom and nothingness. But if we accept the reality that there are “what ifs?” associated with every top pick, then the speculative questions surrounding Peterson and Foster are at least enough to induce involuntary jitters.
What if the fact that Christian Ponder is the Vikings’ quarterback finally has its seemingly inevitable torpedo effect on Peterson? What if, after drafting DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans make a conscious effort to become a passing offense? That would seem like an especially intelligent thought a year after Foster was given over 400 carries, a workload which is never comforting.
Those are, of course, the most reaching and grasping criticisms. But debating the No. 1 pick is very much an exercise rooted in reaching and grasping as we explore players who are separated by the thinnest margins at the top.
The man who has the floor today has very few factors out of his control that could make his season swim with the fishes, and a significant reason to expect a trend upwards, even after a season when he logged 1,745 all-purpose yards.
I know, at first the notion of taking anyone who isn’t named Foster or Peterson with the No. 1 pick seems whack, as the kids say (I think). But you should probably get over that feeling quickly, because in the right offense that now has the right quarterback, Charles has the potential to post some booming numbers. And if we assume that Peterson descends from his +2,000-yard season on the ground to something still stupid good but a little more human, then a season in which Charles finishes with slightly better numbers is easily conceivable. As is a fake footballing world in which the real No. 1 overall discussion should be between Foster and Charles.
Apologies for the mild dizzying sensation, but I really do believe that once when we look back at 2013, it could be that close between the top three. Or even the top four if we throw Doug Martin in there, or even the top five if we throw Marshawn Lynch in there (*inserts face into palm*).
The separating element with Charles will be his ability as a pass catcher, and in turn the quick-burst he shows in open space after receiving a pass. His edge over Peterson as a pass catcher looks like this: if we disregard Charles’ 2011 season in which he appeared in only two games, he’s averaged 318.3 receiving yards per season, and Peterson is further back at 254.3 yards. Meanwhile, Foster has finished with 600 or more receiving yards in two of his last three seasons, bringing his single-season average to 382.8.
What sets Charles apart with his catching ability, though, is the very delicious likelihood that he’s about to ascend the pass catching ladder, and not hover. The main reason for that is two-fold.
First, there’s Alex Smith’s lack of arm strength and the fact that checking down brings him great joy. Smith may not be the best deep ball thrower, but if you’d like a ball to be completed to its desired destination and not put in the hands of the opposition, he’s your guy. During the 2011 season when the 49ers surprisingly rose from being the subject of laughter to doing much of the laughing, Smith completed 61.3 percent of his passes while throwing just five interceptions. Then in 2012 in his nine starts before suffering a concussion and being replaced by Colin Kaepernick, Smith’s completion percentage rose to 70.2, and he led the league in passer rating (104.1) before the injury while averaging 8.0 yards per attempt.
He’s a game manager and the very best one, which is a term used so often that it’s admittedly become a horrible cliché, though it’s not at all meant as a criticism. Frank Gore caught a moderate 28 passes last year in the 49ers’ backfield, but 17 of them came from Smith’s arm. In 2011, 49ers running backs caught 45 passes.
But what’s especially intriguing is Andy Reid’s view of the swing pass and/or screen pass and/or option pass as his version of the quarterback handoff. Those who thoroughly enjoy their 100 Yards and Running subscription will recall me diving deep into that source of giddiness about a month ago, and going through the various stages of palm sweats because of this quote from Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson:
“You’ve seen him sprint out of the single receiver, and he’ll come out of the backfield. 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.”
Repeatedly, we’ve heard and read even more encouraging comments. How about this from the man himself…
“I know my role in my mind will be doing lots of stuff with the offense. I’m like (Brian) Westbrook and (LeSean) McCoy as far as how I fit into (Reid’s) offense … I definitely need to do more studying and knowing the scheme of the defense, especially playing a position like wide receiver. I have to go in there and try to read the defense. Last year, I didn’t have any catches out of the backfield. I feel like this year it will be more.”
Yes, he said wide receiver there. As in the guy split out wide, and far removed from the backfield.
As a quick review/reminder: under Reid, LeSean McCoy averaged 397 receiving yards per season, with 592 yards on 78 receptions in 2010 his single-season high. Prior to him, Brian Westbrook had two seasons with +700 receiving yards (including one with 90 catches), while averaging 473.8 yards per season. Straight bank.
It’s become abundantly clear that Charles will be at the center of an entirely new and dynamic offense in Kansas City. That’s especially evident with the confirmation that some pistol elements will also be included in the Chiefs’ offense after pistol pioneer Chris Ault was hired as a consultant. It’s a system in which a running back with both great burst and edge speed is used as the anchor.
Charles is an explosive guy, and when Reid’s love for running back receiving is combined with pistol tendencies, he could very easily hover around 360-ish touches (Westbrook had 368 touches during his best season, with 2,104 all-purpose yards). Translated, more touches means more opportunities, and more opportunities means more production. Ideally, and likely.
Consider: Charles’ highest single-season yards from scrimmage came in 2010, when he finished with 1,935 yards. He posted those numbers (in addition to an absurd 6.4 yards per carry) despite still sharing backfield duties with Thomas Jones, which resulted in a sufficient but still low 275 touches. The math on that is 7.0 yards per touch, and a touchdown once every 34 touches (Charles scored eight times that year).
With that kind of potential growth spurt, the decision to side with caution and select Peterson first overall while leaning on hopes that he’ll replicate last year’s numbers isn’t quite as easy. Sorry?