Chiefs could draft big-play threat from loaded crop of running backs

Chiefs' Andy Reid on Spencer Ware's 2017 role

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid spoke at the NFL's annual meeting on Spencer Ware's potential role in 2017.
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Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid spoke at the NFL's annual meeting on Spencer Ware's potential role in 2017.

It’s easy to forget now — and borderline crazy to believe — that in the 2008 NFL Draft, eight running backs were selected before the Chiefs snapped up Jamaal Charles with the 73rd overall pick.

The Chiefs, of course, certainly won’t complain about their good fortune. Charles was released this offseason due to ongoing knee trouble and the need to create precious cap space, but for the first nine years of his career, he gave the organization and fans more than they could have ever dreamed. Charles finished his Chiefs career as the club’s all-time leading rusher, with plenty of great memories to boot.

With that said, perhaps it’s only appropriate that the first draft after Charles’ release is generally regarded to be the strongest in years, with some even daring to invoke the vaunted ’08 crop as a comparison.

“We’ve talked about how loaded this class is from top to bottom,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “I really think it’s got a chance to be as good a class as running back since we’ve seen since that 2008 group that had five first-rounders, and Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte.”

Rice, Charles and Forte all made Pro Bowls, and so did three of the five first-round backs McShay did not mention — Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart and Chris Johnson — not to mention seventh-rounder Justin Forsett.

That’s an absurd amount of production from one crop, and it’s probably foolhardy to ever expect that to replicated, especially in a league that is increasingly devaluing the running-back position.

McShay, however, is not the only one who believes that this year’s crop is loaded with talent. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has, at one point of the process, had as many as five running backs — LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon — with first-round grades, though he said at the Combine that he expects fewer than that to go in the round.

“I think three are going to go in the first round, because (of) Mixon’s character, and I think Kamara’s going to have enough questions about why he didn’t play more,” Mayock said.

That leaves the Chiefs in an interesting spot. With the 27th pick in the first round, they’ll be looking to get value, and selecting a first-round talent at running back — and yes, you can throw the dynamic Cook (who has fumbling, injury and off-field concerns) into that stew — who could potentially increase the dynamism of the running game would qualify as a win.

But on the other hand, it’s not like running back is a major need right now. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said at the NFL’s annual meeting in March that Spencer Ware, 25, did a fine job in his first year as a starter.

“I’m a big Spencer Ware fan — I like him,” Reid said. “Well, the kid’s dirty tough. He’s going to give you an honest down every snap. He’s not real fancy — that’s not his deal, but he can block, he can catch and he can run. So, there’s a place for Spencer, and this was really his first year as a full-time halfback.”

The Chiefs also have third-down back Charcandrick West, 25, as a neat complement to him, to go along with promising youngster Darrin Reaves and veteran C.J. Spiller.

But the Chiefs have also done their due diligence on some lower-round big-play running backs — Wyoming’s Brian Hill, Louisiana-Lafayette’s Elijah McGuire and North Carolina State’s Matt Dayes were all formally interviewed by the team at the Combine — a potential indication that even if the Chiefs don’t spring for a running back early, they may very well do it in the mid-to-late rounds.

Given the talent available in this draft, that’s certainly not a bad position to be in, either.

“This group,” McShay said, “has a chance to be as good (as 2008) when we look back on it.”

2017 NFL Draft

At Philadelphia

Round 1: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 27

Rounds 2-3: 6 p.m. Friday, April 28

Rounds 4-7: 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29


Chiefs’ need at this position: Medium. The Chiefs don’t need to make running back a priority, because Spencer Ware fared well in his first year as a starter and Charcandrick West is a fine complement to him. But while both are young, team-first guys, both will be free agents in 2018, and the Chiefs are still missing the big-play, every-down element Jamaal Charles gave them prior to his recent knee issues. The Chiefs do have a promising young back in Darrin Reaves in the mix, and they also signed veteran C.J. Spiller as a low-risk flier, so they don’t have to take a running back early unless they fall in love with a guy, but it would be wise to — at the very least — take a raw back with big-play speed somewhere in this draft and let him develop.

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