Sunday, April 1, 2012
Why The Chiefs Needed Peyton Hillis
It's not news that the Chiefs signed former Cleveland Brown's running back Peyton Hillis to a one-year deal. It might be news to Chiefs fans, however, that Hillis could be a bigger factor to the Chiefs running game than Jamaal Charles.
To fans that have watched Charles over his career, and particularly in 2010, this notion seems ridiculous. Charles was a Pro Bowl player in 2010, was second in the NFL in rushing yards, and was a huge (understatement) reason why the Chiefs made the playoffs that season. But this is 2012, and a knee surgery for a running back cannot be taken lightly, even with modern science.
At this point, it seems that all signs suggest Charles will be healthy for the beginning of the season. It helps that Charles's injury occurred so early in the season - week two - and that he has had plenty of time to recover and go through the proper rehab procedures. Recovery time for ACL injuries is around six-nine months, so players that suffered the same injury later in the season - Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall - are at a disadvantage compared to Charles.
According to the Chiefs official website, Charles stopped by the team's facility to have a word with head coach Romeo Crennel. “He came in for a check-up and he stopped by the office and I had a chance to talk to him and he was saying that his knee is doing well. He is running straight ahead, so he is making good progress."
But Crennel has been around the game too long to not be cautious, even in optimism. “The trainer says he is on schedule, his rehab people say he is on schedule, so we’re excited about that news. Now, with that being said, you always have to wait until you get them on the field to see how they really do, but it’s optimistic right now.”
And Crennel has every right to worry. As much as Chiefs fans love Charles, myself included, he is not immune to the effects of a knee surgery and the NFL history that accompanies it.
In an article from NFL.com, Fantasy editor Michael Fabiano, took a look at the seasons running backs had after coming back from an ACL surgery. The list of running backs, dating back to 1999, showed that it was very rare for a player to follow up a season after an ACL tear with as good of numbers as they had before the injury. Exceptions, however, seemed to depend on the age of the back. The younger the age of the player, the better chance they had of matching or improving on those prior stats.
Fabiano concluded that "while a decrease in production should be expected compared to his 2010 totals, he'll have had far more time than Peterson and Mendenhall to come back. Charles is also just 25 years old, so he clearly has youth on this side." But correlation doesn't equal causation, and the most recent example Fabiano uses in his article gives me some concern.
Kevin Smith for the Detroit Lions tore his ACL in the seventh game of the 2009 season. Smith, just 23 years old at the time of injury, was on pace for 50 receptions, 1,430 scrimmage yards and 6 TDs before the injury. The next season, Smith finished with 11 receptions, 256 scrimmage yards and no TDs. Obviously, this is the fear for any running back having injured their most valuable asset.
That's where Peyton Hillis comes in. Although having battled injuries and a Cleveland front office last season, Hillis also has a good 2010 campaign to show for, without the knee injury that Charles had. And although Crennel has already said that Hillis will be a "complement" to Charles, I think there's a good chance that Charles might start off being the complement to Hillis.
Charles is leaps and bounds the more dynamic player; he can break a game open on any single play at any single time. But Hillis is an every down back, something that Charles has yet to prove that he can be. Even during Charles's big 2010 season, he still had 15 fewer carries than Thomas Jones. Especially since Charles is coming off an injury, that is probably similar to what Chiefs fans will see in 2012.
And there's nothing wrong with that. It worked in 2010, and I think Peyton Hillis > Thomas Jones. And using a player like Hillis to keep Charles fresh during the whole season, much like the team did in 2010 with the Jones-Charles combination, seems like not just a good idea but also the right idea to make the Chiefs the best running team in the NFL once more.
That's why the addition of Hillis was so important. While Charles gets healthier during the season, I expect him to get more and more carries. But in the first part of the season, I do expect to see the majority of hand offs go to the big Hillis.
How long that lasts, I'm not sure. Only time will tell how healthy Charles is at the beginning of the season, but he does seem encouraged. "Right now I'm just very anxious to get back on the field. Everything's looking good, so I'm just gonna continue to work hard and just make sure I'm ready to go come Fall."
Let's hope so, because there are few better in the game at running the ball than a healthy Jamaal Charles.