Chiefs roster evaluation: Running back committee comes with mixed reviews
By Byron Smith
It’s time for an in-depth dive into the Chiefs running backs, how they were expected to perform, and what that means for the 2020 season.
The Kansas City Chiefs had 13 different players with a rushing attempt this season: Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy, Patrick Mahomes, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, Spencer Ware, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman, Sammy Watkins, Anthony Sherman, De’Anthony Thomas, Travis Kelce, and Matt Moore.
This partially has to do with Andy Reid‘s unique offensive play designs, using everything from reverses to screens to spinning Travis Kelce into the Wildcat. More than that, however, is the number of running backs that the Chiefs’ had on the roster this season.
Six different players took a snap at running back this season for the Chiefs (if you include Anthony Sherman). Only three of those backs were on the roster at the end of last season, with Thompson, Ware, and McCoy coming to the team in the offseason or during training camp. Each of the backs on the roster was truly unique, helping diversify the Chiefs’ offense that won a Super Bowl.
Let’s take a look at the Chiefs’ running back group in the 2019 season.
What we thought would happen?
Expectations were extremely low for the Chiefs’ running backs in 2019, not due a lack of talent at the position, but primarily due to the abundance of talent at QB and the emphasis the league and Andy Reid put on Patrick Mahomes and the offense. In a pass-first league, with a pass-centric offense, did the running backs even have the opportunity to succeed?
Despite the past success and experience of Lesean McCoy, he came in with the lowest expectations in the running back group. After an extremely disappointing 2018 season with the Bills, McCoy was cut right after the Bills’ last preseason game, and after an intense 48 hours of speculation, he made his way back to his long time friend and coach Andy Reid. In his prime, McCoy and Mahomes would have been an unstoppable duo, with explosive potential for every play on the offensive call sheet. Ten years later, and the 31-year-old back with injury and stamina concerns did not have the same potential.
Chiefs’ Kingdom was extremely hopeful for McCoy’s addition to the offense, but analysts were skeptical about whether or not he could go at all. The coaching staff seemed skeptical as well, by choosing not to deem mCCoy the premier back and announcing their intent to use a running back committee.
Early indications show the Chiefs’ had a low expectations for Damien Williams as well. The Chiefs picked up Carlos Hyde in free agency and he seemed set to start over Williams. Then, before the end of the preseason, the Chiefs send him to the Texans in a trade for Martinas Rankin, an offensive lineman. (Hyde would go on to start in Houston and have a great season.) With Hyde gone, Damien Williams seemed set to start at running back. That is until the Chiefs picked up McCoy.
Despite getting a decent contract extension towards the end of last season and having a solid showing in the post season, analyst, fans, and the team coaches seemed doubtful about Williams ‘ability to run the ball.
Where expectations were low for Damien Williams and McCoy, expectations were through the roof for rookie Darwin Thompson after an exciting preseason. Picked up in the sixth round of the 2019 draft, the Chiefs hoped to have found another surprise star at running back like they had with Kareem Hunt.
Thompson did have some shortcomings, with his pass blocking being at the top of the list. Fans and coaches hoped that after a while with Reid and Eric Bieniemy, Thompson would be able to be correct and overcome his shortcomings and become a legitimate threat at running back.