Signing RB LeRon McClain was a lot of things, but first and foremost, it was a serendipitous moment in Kansas City Chiefs fans history — it’s a signing that seemed to go with what all of us had hoped for since the Draft, and seemed to have been willed by a union of fan enthusiasm and Twitter. It has also inspired a ton of conversation over what this new Chiefs offense might look like.
Mostly, this deal seems to further screw with the role Dexter McCluster is supposed to play on this team. McCluster now becomes the seventh option on offense for this team — behind Charles, Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston, Moeaki and Jones/McClain. And that doesn’t bode well for someone we spent a very high 2nd rounder on in 2010. (Now, I predicted this would happen with unfortunate accuracy, on draft day. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still love the guy.)
As luck would have it, I was engaged in this exact debate a day ago with videomaster Clay Wendler, of Red Tribe Cinema. I remain convinced that McCluster can yet still have an effective, meaningful role in this offense, predicting he could end up with 150 touches this year.
Wendler’s smart rebuttal, as well as my response, after the jump.
It’s simple math.
Chiefs skill position players touched the ball 797 times last year.
Let’s throw out some estimates for this year:
Bowe – 80 catches
Baldwin – 40 catches
Breaston – 35 catches
Moeaki – 50 catches
Charles – 35 catches
Charles – 250 carries
# 2 RB – 200 carries
That’s 690 touches and some of those are conservative estimates.
That leaves 107 touches that McCluster has to fight for with guys like Pope, Tucker and Urban and whatever catches Thomas Jones and McClain get.
Yes, some of those are really conservative estimates. And with figures like those, I think the cloud is starting to clear around Dexter McConundrum: how do you use a talented player who isn’t built to be a regular contributor in a way that justifies the high 2nd round pick?
You can’t. I find it next to impossible that McCluster, under these circumstances, will ever justify where we drafted him.
But hope is not lost, not entirely. And in the face of Wendler’s simple math, I think the Chiefs would do well to try to make the numbers fit, and give McCluster a serious chance to be an impact player.
Here are five ways I could see the Chiefs utilizing McCluster in productive ways. I’ve gone out of my way to assure that each way is not a gimmick, and can make repeat appareances week in and week out, rather than relying on surprise plays.
1. Running out of the dot with three-wide.
This would be the first and best play I would endorse with McCluster simply because you don’t have to trot any different personnel out for it, and you have him lined up as a running back. You place your team in the I-formation, no fullback necessary, and run McCluster off tackle. It is imperative that you have three wide receivers to keep the defense relatively honest, while the offensive line runs a zone block which allows McCluster to pick a hole to hit.
It’s a relatively ordinary play but it utilizes his elusiveness and his excellent ability to manipulate a defender into his blocker, a trait he exhibited in bits and pieces last year, but frequently at Ole Miss.
2. Bubble screens & quick outs.
A play the Chiefs didn’t utilize nearly enough last year were getting the ball to McCluster who is ideally lined out wide. We used to pull this play at least once a week with Dante Hall and Hall could get three to ten yards out of the play every time. McCluster’s got faster wheels than Hall, so there’s no reason we can’t either run a quick blocker out wide for McCluster to manipulate the defender into, or simply just out the ball real fast, and allow for maximum creativity.
Ideally, this is a trick we pull out of the hat when there’s a matchup problem.
3. Speed packages with Charles.
Ahhhh, yes. Everybody’s wet dream. Cassel in the shotgun with Charles and McCluster on either side. Daring defense to radically adjust their lineups to match what we’ve got.
This is a particularly wicked lineup for McCluster because defenses study tape to stop Charles, not him. With the defenses sucking to the other side of the field, McCluster will get all kinds of space to chew up.
4. Crossing routes.
The Chiefs love running these plays for Cassel anyways simply because Cassel loves the matchups they provide, and it’s typically a fairly tough route to cover. This can be a great set if the Chiefs lineup McCluster in the backfield but then trot him out to the side of the line, allowing him to dart upfield and cut straight across the field five to ten yards deep.
Probably not a terribly sharp idea to do if a team is allocating a top corner to McCluster, but if he’s coming out of the backfield, chances are a safety or a linebacker is going to be lined up on him at this point, and his is a favorable matchup 90% of the time.
Other than his size, McCluster makes for a great third down back simply because he’s great with his hands, is fast as hell, can improvise for extra yards, and is a willing (but inconsistent) blocker. Draws can be effective for him because he is acceptable and legitimate on the field in shotgun situations because of these factors. A draw is particular effective with him because his small size and amazing jukes can weasel through the defensive line’s passrush.