While Kansas City Chiefs running backs ran for more yards in 2016 than in any previous year under head coach Andy Reid, the backs also scored six fewer touchdowns than any of the last four years.
Now, heading into 2017, Kansas City will have to live without last year’s top back Spencer Ware, who accounted for five total touchdowns, 447 yards receiving and 921 yards rushing, nearly 60 percent of the team’s total rushing yards.
Ware underwent season ending surgery after he suffered a torn PCL and LCL in his right knee in the Chiefs’ third preseason game.
Losing a running back who almost reached 1,000 yards rushing is a tough pill to swallow for any team, but the Chiefs and Andy Reid’s spread out offense are perhaps built to handle it better than most other NFL teams.
Jamaal Charles took the brunt of touches in Reid’s first three years in Kansas City, but the Chiefs’ will go with more of a committee approach at running back for the second straight year. This by no means is a red flag, as the combination of Ware, Charcandrick West and Tyreek Hill was a more productive run game than Charles alone in the last few years.
Hill’s role in the running game will likely drop significantly from his 267 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, as he’s now the Chiefs’ top wide receiver option after the departure of Jeremy Maclin. West is the player that the Chiefs hope can rebound from an injury filled 2016 and come closer to his breakout season in 2015.
West turned in a 2016 stat line of 634 yards rushing, 214 yards receiving five total touchdowns in just nine starts. Following the breakout season for the Abilene Christian alum, West turned in a decreased total of 481 yards in 2016.
Now without Ware in the fold, West is the only running back left from 2016 and will be counted on to return to 2015 form. West did look to have some bounce in his step in the preseason, highlighted by a 113-yard performance on just seven carries against Cincinnati, good for a 16-yard average.
Even if West has more of an impact in 2016, Chiefs fans probably know what his ceiling as a running back is. That’s why the addition of Kareem Hunt has many excited. The Toledo alum rushed for 4,945 yards in his four-year college career.
Hunt has as much NFL speed, vision, acceleration, hands, toughness and experience as you could ask for out of a rookie. He’s a third-round draft pick coming in with fewer expectations than top draft picks like Christian McCaffrey or Leonard Fournette, but Chiefs fans saw the impact that a third-round pick can have, in Charles.
The level of talented defense’s Hunt faced at Toledo is a concern, but even in games against power five teams like Iowa State or Missouri, he turned in 129 yard and 148-yard performances. He’s missed some holes in the defense throughout the preseason, but also flashed his catching ability across the field and ability to evade tacklers while still running full speed.
How quickly Hunt develops is a crucial area to follow for Kansas City, as having a threat in the backfield for both the pass and run game frees of quarterback Alex Smith to work the middle of the field. It also would be a big step forward if Hunt were to succeed in the red zone, as even with Ware the Chiefs’ were one of the worst red zone teams in the NFL.
The role of running back C.J. Spiller is still unknown as Kansas City released the veteran on cut down day to the surprise of many, but reports have surfaced that he could be resigning with the Chiefs in the very near future.
Spiller clearly was not viewed as a major asset for the team, despite a strong training camp and preseason, but would be an experienced option to go to if Hunt or West were to go down with an injury. Even then, expectations should be kept low for Spiller’s impact as he’s now been cut by five teams in four years.
Even with Charles at his peak, the running back position was never the focal point of the offensive attack under Reid. However, having options that can produce in the passing game or actually drive the pile near the goal line is something the team’s been missing and could be a difference maker in 2017.
Without Ware, Kansas City is left with inexperience in Hunt and uncertainty in West. But as a unit, the backs have all the potential to surpass last year’s overall production and help take the offense to new heights.
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