The Chiefs found a gem when Priest Holmes went down with injury in 2004. Starting to suspect if they had any backup RBs that could carry the load in Priest’s absense, they eventually gave a shot to a young Larry Johnson. This was a couple games after Holmes’ placement on IR, and for a few great years, there was no looking back.
LJ’s phenomenal talent behind one of the best offensive lines of all time was a sight to behold. He ran through defenders, between defenders, around defenders and racked up so much yardage after first contact he seemed to have more than he did before first contact. It was fear inducing. Defenses were exhausted by the final quarter. And in 2005, LJ would have been on pace to destroy the single-season yardage barrier had he been given more carries in a season he partially shared with Priest.
With such a brilliant talent at running back, the Chiefs looked elsewhere in the Draft and free agency (the first serious help at RB wouldn’t come until Kolby Smith was drafted in the midrounds next year). They figured they were set at the position; that a complimentary back might be nice but that it wasn’t a need, and proceeded to turn their attention to the defense.
The folly of this decision was obvious. While it was a bonus in the short-term not to place a priority on finding another good running back, it was a horrendous decision in the not-so-long-term. LJ was eventually fed the ball far too often over a couple seasons (including his infamous 416 carries in 2007), wore down at hyperspeed, losing value quicker than a PT Cruiser. By thinking short-term rather than maximizing LJ’s talent for as long as possible, the Chiefs found themselves with a terrible running game.
The Chiefs found a gem when Larry Johnson was suspended in 2009. Starting to suspect if they had any backup RBs that could carry the load in LJ’s absense, they eventually gave a shot to a young Jamaal Charles. And for what looks like will be some great years ahead, there will be no looking back.
If this sounds familiar to you, it should. And it plays into why the Chiefs should draft CJ Spiller*, a ball-carrying demon out of Clemson’s backfield, and the best offensive player of the 2010 NFL Draft.
More, after the jump.
Now, it is true that Jamaal Charles is not the same running back as Larry Johnson. LJ was a power back, and they typically have a short shelf-life. Charles is a scat-back, he is more reliant on agility.
But that’s exactly why a second running back should be a priority. Charles does not have the body to hold up for an entire NFL season. He was playing injured for much of the time he played. He cannot take 25 carries a game. Take that down to 15-20 and split it up with a running back that continues to demand respect from a defense, rather than having a Nobody come in so a defense can take a couple plays off resting for Charles.
Now, some of you may call me crazy. Well before you think I’m Whitlocking for attention, rather than genuinely believing something this unconventional, I will list you the arguments as to why this team should pick up CJ Spiller*.
1. He is a rare talent. A talented running back/track star much like Charles, Spiller is a real threat to run a 4.2 at the Combine this year. There’s absolutely nobody, not even Taylor Mays, who can match his level of athletic ability. Spiller, much like Charles, has unbelievable balance and can change directions in a flash. His breakaway speed is unheard of, and is pretty much on par with Charles.
Like our current RB stud, he forces defenses to be honest and stay spread across the field, because like you can see in the video, Spiller just needs a seam and it’s over. Remember a couple seasons ago when the Chiefs had to struggle for 20+ yard gains? With Spiller and Charles, that would be a thing of the past.
2. He is a dynamo returning kicks. I’m serious, you can YouTube it. Those of you who want an offensive tackle so we can improve not one, but two positions on the field can take a hike: as long as you count PR and KR as two different positions, Spiller improves three positions on the field. Spiller’s kickoff returns have a particular feel that resemble virtually nobody else’s: he doesn’t weave through the crowd like Dante Hall or Devin Hester, he doesn’t simply take great angles like DeSean Jackson or Reggie Bush… He is a force of nature that simply whooshes across the field, pulling away from anybody chasing him. Just watch.
3. He and Charles will maximize each others’ talents and longevity. Running backs do typically have shorter shelf life — but that’s if they have to carry too much of the load too much of the time, which we’re risking in 2010 if we don’t find another promising RB to put alongside Charles. By the same token, Charles will be able to extend Spiller’s career as well as long as the two remain a dual threat out of the backfield.
I don’t want to hear that Spiller is a clone of Charles. First of all, even if he was, sign me up. Secondly, Charles is a much more prominent out-of-the-backfield runner. Spiller can actually run routes and is an excellent receiver, and can even double as a deep threat spread out wide. CJ Spiller is essentially Reggie Bush without the Superman complex of wanting to do too much. Like Bush, Spiller is also a really good kick returner.
Now, I’ve heard the argument that you gotta have thunder to go with your lightning. I’m not opposed to picking up some thunder in addition to Spiller, but who says you can have too much lightning? Big backs are much easier to pick up than speed backs like these two, and this team is aching for talent, not for picky little pieces to the puzzle, and no offensive player has more talent than this guy.
4. He will be a powerful piece in our future negotiations with Charles. If Charles has racked up another 1000 yards in a few games like he did this year, he’s going to want to reconfigure his contract that he signed his rookie year. By all means, he’s entitled. But before we go spending ridiculous Larry Johnson sized-money on the guy, he won’t be able to threaten us as if without him, we have no home-run backs. In essense, we won’t have to pay him as much which keeps our cap flexible.
5. He is a sure thing. Running backs tend to have very low bust rates in the first round. Running backs with this much speed almost never bust in the first round. Since the #5 overall is likely to be the last #5 overall to receive an obscene amount of money from the Chiefs before rookie pay-slotting is likely introduced next year, it would be wise to take a sure thing rather than a crazy risk. Safeties bust much more often, and while offensive lineman have a low bust rate, it isn’t as low as speed backs like Spiller. Pioli has been described as liking “a sure thing” by Kent Babb. You don’t get any closer to guaranteed value than this.
6. Most importantly, no other player would have a bigger impact on this team than Spiller**. Defenses would have to play honest. Our offensive line would face less pressure and could create smaller holes in the rungame. No other team in the league (with the possible exception of the Saints) could sport a one-two speed punch that the Chiefs would have. Any play with these two on the field can become a touchdown. Our wide receivers would face less brackets. Cassel would have more time and less pressure to single-handedly carry the team.
As good as many of the elite tackles atop this Draft are, we still have Albert and should give him a shot for another year. We can find good OL talent later in the Draft (although you’ll notice our OL will get magically better with Spiller and Charles running). It’s a great Draft for passrushing, premier guys will still be available in round two. And why spend a ridiculously high pick on an ILB like Rolando McClain if you can still find great ILBs in the 3rd and 4th round? And Mays, much as I love him, is not the sure thing Spiller is. You can also find great corners later into the next round of Draft, and this isn’t a position of great need for us anyway.
See, this is the deciding factor here. You do not simply want an insanely good player at #5 overall, but you want someone who will have an earthquake of an an impact and change your entire team and everything your opponent does in game-planning for you. Nobody, and I mean nobody***, meets this criterion more than Clemson’s CJ Spiller.
* As long as Eric Berry’s off the board.
** With the exception of Eric Berry.
*** Eric Berry, Eric Berry, Eric Berry.