The Brain Dump: Short & Long on KC Backfield


Photo by Barry Lenard.

Photo by Barry Lenard.

I received a deluge of questions about Charcandrick West, Knile Davis and Spencer Ware yesterday. I’m unpacking it here. 

About Each Back

The Chiefs have a mid-tier offensive line this year. It’s better than projected, but it still has its weak points. A player of Jamaal Charles’ caliber makes an offensive line better because his vision, agility, and burst erases some of the mistakes that happen along the front five such as penetration into the backfield or the intended gap never opening.

Charcandrick West and Knile Davis are excellent athletes. West is the smaller, quicker of the two. I’m not sure there is a back in the NFL as shifty as Charles, but West has enough quickness to bounce a play outside and in some cases, cut a play to an alternate crease. At 205 lbs., West is capable of running inside, but it’s not his strength.  I wrote a little more about him in this week’s Gut Check.

One of West’s redeeming qualities is he flashes the wisdom to take what the line gives him. If he has to drop the pads, hit a small crease and dig into his linemen’s backs to keep the offense on a decent down-and-distance schedule, he’ll do it before he goes for the high-risk play and loses yards.

Davis has the size and speed of a feature back and good agility in the open field. It’s why he’s a good return specialist. But his agility, pad level, and decision-making in tight spaces has always been wonky. At Arkansas, Davis often tried too hard to run like a scatback. When he pretended to be Brian Westbrook between the tackles, he often failed.

When Davis has been successful as an NFL runner, it’s because he has learned to drop the pads and hit a crease hard. When he has failed, he went back to being a big man in a little coat. Not a good look.

West’s maturity and willingness to work at his craft is the reason he’s above Davis in the pecking order. If Davis either worked at his craft harder or showed more acumen to pick up lessons faster, he would have been splitting carries with Charles at this point of his career. He’s that physically talented.

In that limited scope, talent isn’t everything.

Spencer Ware is a favorite of mine. You can read my post-draft ode to the former LSU and Seahawks’ back here. The reason you haven’t heard from Ware for most of three years is injury and alcohol. Ware impressed the Seahawks as a rookie. So much so, the team loaded the active depth chart with its backs, keeping Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Derrick Coleman, and Ware.

Ware was designated as a fullback and running back, but I was told by a NFL source that the team saw Ware’s future at running back and they liked him a lot. It showed early on, when Ware actually saw the field during the first two weeks of the regular season before an ankle injury forced the team to shut him down for the year.

Then came DUI arrests in consecutive years. After the second mistake, the Seahawks released Ware. He had a tryout with the Giants last year and eventually landed in Kansas City. He had some nice moments in the second halves of preseason games and landed on the practice squad. Only 23 years-old, Ware still has time on his side as an athlete and young adult to mature into a quality professional. I thought he was the best back at LSU when he was there and Stevan Ridley was splitting time with Ware.

Short Term

Ware is the best all-around back. He’s a bruiser, he’s smart between the tackles, he can make the first man miss, and he’s a fine passing down option. But talent doesn’t matter as much short-term as existing tenure. Davis was the higher pick with the bigger contract and West already paid his dues on the practice squad last year. Ware likely earned the opportunity based on scouts and his reps were limited enough behind players with more tenure that the coaching staff probably doesn’t know what they really have in him.

This may seem crazy to many of you, but players at the end of depth charts don’t get a lot of reps with the base offense or defense. They are seen as special teams options and usually not studied in-depth. If an injury to a player like Charles occurs, they rarely think about elevating the special teams option or practice squad player to a larger role. The first inclination is to work out veterans.

The Chiefs worked out Ben Tate and Pierre Thomas. Both players are proven and they would be much cheaper options at this point than it would be signing them prior to the season, because veterans signed prior to Week 1 receive guaranteed contracts.

The fact that neither player was signed is an initial display of confidence in its backfield. The decision to elevate Ware from the practice squad also hints that they might like what little they have seen of the young back and they’re willing to put him on the field at some point.

But they will follow the coaching protocol. West earned the No.2 role and Davis has proven he has enough moments to help the team. The Chiefs will roll with these two first and if one of them struggles, Ware will earn a few carries.

It puts Ware in a position where he must make a huge impression early to force the staff to give him more chances. It doesn’t have to be a long run, it can include other things: earning a first down in short yardage, making a good block, or doing quality work on special teams (if assigned to a role).

West is the guy with the most to gain and he’s the player fantasy owners should acquire. Don’t break the bank to do it. If he plays well, he’ll probably earn 15-18 touches per game, average 3.8-4.3 yards per carry, and split red zone touches with Davis or Ware. It’s enough to consider him a fantasy RB2.

Davis is the guy to acquire if you have the luxury to own a reserve with RB2 upside that you can sell high if West fails to work out or you need a back, missed on West, and there’s literally no upside players or utility producers like David Johnson, Theo Riddick, or Marcel Reece in your league’s free agent pool.

Ware isn’t worth owning unless you’re in a league with rosters with more than 20 offensive players and 14 teams. He is worth monitoring. If he earns on-field time and looks good, he could be a preemptive pick-up in subsequent weeks.

Long-Term

The most likely answer for the Chief’s backfield if Charles does not return to form is “nobody on this depth chart.”  But we all like to have a share invested in current players on the depth chart just in case that answer isn’t the correct one.

As I said, Ware is the most versatile runner with the best conceptual gifts. He’s also the slowest. He has burst, but whether he has enough has been the lingering question at this point in his career with limited exposure to first-tier NFL talents during the regular season. Until he shows that he has it, we won’t know.

Further, Ware’s lack of exposure to the speed of the regular season could also mean that it will take him some time to get conceptually acclimated, shake off the rust of not being a feature back for four years, and it could make him appear even slower.

Admittedly, I’ve invested in some dynasty shares of Ware, but only in leagues with large rosters and on teams where I have the luxury to do so.

West and Davis have the athletic profiles, but Davis has done enough thus far to show that he will need a come to Jesus career moment for the “a-ha” to occur. It’s unlikely Davis shows the Chiefs more than what he already has.

West is the guy to own, but keep expectations low. Athletically, he can get the job done. Conceptually, he’s a work in progress.

The Bottom Line:

  • West is the guy to own short-term as a likely flex-play with RB2 potential. Expecting more would be a major surprise.
  • Long-term, West is worth buying, holding, and watching how he develops. Form a game plan on what to do with him after this season.
  • Davis is a short-term buy-low, sell-high if West falters. Buy him now if you have the luxury or you’re truly desperate.
  • Long-term, Davis likely returning kicks.
  •  Ware isn’t worth owning short-term, but if he begins to earn playing time and impresses as I describe above, pick him up if you have the luxury.
  • Long-term, Ware is the most talented based on college film but he has to prove two things: He has matured off the field and he has the burst to hang with NFL starters.

Happy Hunting.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2015 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece. 

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