This is the eighth in a series of opinionated fantasy football columns that will be posted daily in July and August, providing fantasy owners with some insights to consider as they prepare for their drafts. You can get an in-depth preview of the upcoming fantasy football season with the purchase of the Yahoo! Sports / Pro Football Weekly Fantasy Football Guide 2010, available now in newsstands and bookstores, or online at PFWstore.com.
It's rare that a running back actually benefits from losing carries, but in the case of Jamaal Charles, it very well might be true.
After going on an absolute rampage as the Chiefs' featured back to finish the 2009 season, Charles won't be quite as featured in '10 following the team's signing of free agent Thomas Jones. The move instantly creates one of the league's more formidable backfield tandems, but it also means that a timeshare is about to be employed in Kansas City.
Initially, fans — and keeper-league owners — of Charles were none too thrilled with the Jones pickup. After all, the shifty Charles handled a full workload quite well once Larry Johnson was released last season. But in the long run, anyone who's banking on Charles' success this season will be glad that Jones is in a Chiefs uniform.
Why is it a good thing for Charles' value that his carries almost certainly will decrease this season? Because the only way he goes on to have a productive season is if he's healthy, and that might not have happened had he been K.C.'s lone ballcarrier.
There's no doubting that Charles was a menace down the stretch in '09. He rushed for 968 yards and scored eight times in the final eight games, eclipsing 100 yards five times and running for 259 yards in the season finale. He not only provided a spark to a lifeless Chiefs offense, but he also carried many fantasy owners to league titles.
His magnificent play wasn't without consequence, however — Charles took such a beating during this run that he had trouble moving by season's end and had to undergo shoulder surgery. Considering that he stands 5-11 and weighs just 199 pounds, it's not a surprise that this heavy load took its toll — the Texas product touched the ball 184 times in those eight contests, or 23 times per game.
Although the thought of what Charles could do with that number of touches over the course of a full season was exciting for fantasy managers, it was also shortsighted. While he likely would have begun the year where he left off in '09, the chances of him making it through an entire campaign at this work rate were just about nil. He simply doesn't have the size to withstand this type of weekly pounding over 16 games, and odds are he would have been sidelined for multiple outings.
It's for this reason that Jones' arrival will be a blessing in disguise. With a competent veteran coming off a career year now able to spell him, Charles won't have to deal with taking hits on every single down. Maybe more importantly, K.C. will defer to Jones in short-yardage situations, when rushers are almost guaranteed to take a hard shot or two. That's quite a few blows Charles will no longer have to worry about.
Looking at the big picture, this reduction in playing time greatly enhances the probability of Charles making it through the season healthy. Sure, it also lowers his year-long upside as well as the chances of him having another 250-yard game, but those are worthy trade-offs for the increased likelihood that he'll stay out of the trainer's room.
There's no debate — Charles is still the Chiefs' starting running back and the offense's most valuable player. Now he just has a sidekick who will help him stay as healthy as possible for four crucial months. Even with Jones around, Charles remains a surefire top-20 fantasy back.
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