How will the Kansas City Chiefs sort out the competition in the offensive backfield? Let’s look at the running backs on the roster and investigate.
Over the past seven years, there have been two cynical guarantees for Kansas City sports fans in mid-June: the Royals turning early-season excitement into utter disappointment, and football analysts finding new ways to talk down on the Chiefs.
At this point in the NFL offseason, the free agency frenzy has concluded and the draft prospects that consumed all of our time from the final tic of the game clock through the end of April are settled into OTAs.
Topics of legitimate interest for some—primarily the fantasy football crowd—at this point are positional and individual player rankings throughout the league. Fantasy draft season has already come and gone for some but is just around the corner for most, and taking rankings and roster construction into consideration can be pivotal for success in fantasy drafting.
It was recently discussed here how low PFF had ranked the Chiefs running back room. In comparison to the many superior one-two combos and superstars across the NFL, there is much left to be desired on paper in Kansas City. However, if it is viewed through the correct lens, there are a couple of noticeable factors that will lead to improvement in the running back room in 2021.
The primary competitors
Many fans get caught up in the names that fly around through free agency, and in the case of the Chiefs this offseason, there were many folks disappointed before the draft. 2022 featured a historic free agency period in terms of the extensions signed and superstar players traded. For the vast majority of that period, the Chiefs were sellers and a topic of grave nature. The AFC West beefed up to levels never before seen while Kansas City did the bare minimum to fill out one of the most porous rosters in the league.
One veteran who was added, however, Ronald Jones, brought with him far more than just his elusiveness between the tackles. At 24 years old, he has a similar career path and service time to that of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and moreover, a similar hunger to emerge as the back that he was supposed to be.
While CEH and RoJo’s playing styles do complement each other, signing Jones this offseason surely wasn’t done so in order to round out the backfield. That could have been done more cheaply by retaining Darrel Williams. Jones was brought on board to sink or swim and to light a fire under Clyde. Iron sharpens iron, and the worst-case scenario here would be entering the season with an even carry share and opportunity between the two.
Additionally, on Monday, the Chiefs brought back a fan favorite from 2021 in Jerick McKinnon. Although his regular season was limited by injury, he made great playoff contributions that left much of Chiefs Kingdom pounding the table for his return in 2022. It took a good while, but he is back and will elevate the competition for the starting role immensely. His “juice” bouncing off of tackles for yards after contact and explosiveness in the screen game make him as likely a candidate for RB1 as anyone in this now crowded running back room.
Either Jones, Edwards-Helaire, or McKinnon will emerge from the offseason as the bonafide RB1, and whichever player that is will be expected to play a more significant role in the Chiefs offense than we have seen for a tailback since Kareem Hunt in 2017/2018. The talent in the wide receiver room is no longer top-heavy, and the great strength of this offensive line should finally be showcased with a greater commitment to the run in order to round out the offensive attack as a whole.