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The Impact of Peyton Hillis on Jamaal Charles

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Let me first start by saying that I have Jamaal Charles in my main dynasty league. I drafted him in the first round of our initial draft and was hoping that he was going to be my workhorse running back for many years to come. Then this past season he goes out and gets injured in Week 2. Ouch. After Kansas City had such a pitiful rushing game last season, it appeared that Charles would fall right back into the starting running back position and resume his role as stud runner on the Chiefs (and my dynasty team). Things were looking really good for Charles until Kansas City went and signed Peyton Hillis. The 2011 Madden Cover adorning Peyton Hillis. This got me thinking what impact Hillis would have on Charles, so I did some digging.

A little background on Jamaal Charles for you: Charles was drafted in 2008 in the third round out of Texas by Kansas City. After a mediocre rookie season where he compiled 629 total yards and one touchdown playing behind Larry Johnson, he really broke out in Week 10 of the 2009 season. Larry Johnson went down in Week 7 and Charles went on to have one of the best second halves of a fantasy season by racking up 1,181 total yards and eight touchdowns in eight weeks. He carried that momentum into the 2010 season where he compiled 1,935 total yards and 13 touchdowns while splitting carries almost equally with Thomas Jones (230 rushes for Charles, 245 rushes for Jones). Charles had the second-most rushing yards in the league behind come-from-no-where stud Arian Foster, and Kansas City had the most rushing yards as a team in the entire NFL. Things were looking really good for Charles heading into his fourth season last year. He was drafted in the first round of about every fantasy football draft, he had big expectation, and then he went down in Week 2. Crap, crap, double poop I thought to myself.

Peyton Hillis, on the other hand, had a different path to greatness. Hillis was drafted in 2008 also, but in the seventh round out of Arkansas by the Denver Broncos. Tipping the scales at 250 pounds (Charles is listed at 199), Hillis was drafted to be that goal line/short-yardage running back. After struggling for two years in Denver he was part of a trade that sent Brady Quinn to Denver and Hillis to Cleveland (which is ironic because both of them will be on the Chiefs this year). Hillis’ role in Cleveland would be to be the second backup to rookie running back Montario Hardesty after Jerome Harrison. After Hardesty got injured in the preseason and Harrison in Week 2, Hillis was the de facto starting running back. He went on to have a great season compiling 1,654 total yards with 13 touchdowns, and getting named to the Madden cover for his efforts that year. Last year, in a contract year, he did as many a Madden Cover players have before him and did not come close to repeating his 2010 efforts while battling injuries much of the season. Cleveland did not re-sign him and he hit the open market to be signed by Kansas City this offseason.

So what impact will Hillis have on Charles this season? That’s the big question. The Chiefs got rid of head coach Todd Haley and promoted defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel to be the head coach. Crennel will also be serving as the defensive coordinator and let newly hired offensive coordinator Brian Daboll run the offense. Daboll was the offensive coordinator in Miami last season, and brought Reggie Bush back from the dead, so he should have no problem getting Charles and Hillis back on track. Kansas City should have a pretty powerful offense this season as well as a very balanced one. I can see Kansas City being in the Top 10 of NFL offenses for total yards while keeping that attack balanced with their run and pass games. Kansas City could put up similar stats to what the New York Giants did two years ago: around 3,800 passing yards and 2,200 rushing yards.

That’s a lot of rushing yards, right? Not when you consider in 2010 Charles and Jones put up 2,363 rushing yards between the two of them. Last year, five teams had more than 2,200 rushing yards, six teams did it in 2010, and five more in 2009. Does anyone really think Kansas City can’t have a top five rushing attack with Charles and Hillis in the backfield? They complement each other really well. One is a quick cutting, ball catching, speed back, and the other is a downhill, between the tackles, bruising runner. Sounds like a perfect mix to me.

That’s great, but how do you split up 2,200 rushing yards between Charles and Hillis? Dead even at 50-50? 60-40? My guess is something along 60 percent for Charles, 35 percent for Hillis, and 5 percent for everyone else. Charles has been with Kansas City longer and that can mean something to the guys making decisions on playing time. Last year Kansas City thought it were going to do the same thing they did in 2010 by having Charles and Jones split time, but Charles got injured and Jones got another year over 30. This year the Chiefs are going to try to do the same thing they did in 2010, and regain their top rushing attack in the league.

Now some of you may be saying, “What about Jamaal Charles’ injury, that’s got to come into play, right?” My response to that is: when Charles comes back to the field in Week 1 he will have had 11-and-a-half months of recovery time from an injury he sustained running out of bounds, and not by contact, so his injury risk is almost nil for me. The real question you should be asking that you’re forgetting about is, “What about Peyton Hillis’ injury?” While Hillis didn’t end up with a season-ending injury last year, there’s a reason he didn’t even come close to repeating his 2010 season. There’s also a reason that Hillis slowed down considerably at the end of 2010 and had no touchdowns after Week 12 that season. Hillis is a big guy and that takes a toll on your body when you’re a big bruising running like Hillis is. Hillis is meant for a No. 2 running back gig that gets lots of touches. He’s a perfect fit to do what Thomas Jones was doing in 2010, but Charles will be the lead guy in Kanas City.

So in the end of things here’s what I’ve got projected for Charles and Hillis for the 2012 season –

Charles: 250 rushes, 1,400 yards, 9 TD; 40 catches, 350 yards, 4 TD. That’s 293 points in Shark Leagues.

Hillis: 180 rushes, 770 yards, 5 TD; 30 catches, 320 yards, 2 TD. That’s 181 points in Shark Leagues.