If I were to name the 2012 fantasy football campaign in the theme of a Hardy Boys novel, it would be titled “The Mystery of the Question-Mark Running Backs.” Too many big name fantasy backs, like Jamaal Charles, have injury concerns, and injuries are the single greatest bane of the fantasy owner. You can draft perfectly: both according to plan and expert rankings, and still have your season ruined by an ankle, knee, hamstring, collarbone, wrist, thumb, toe, back... and so on.
In a draft mired by injury and uncertainty, where seemingly every first and second round choice could go wrong, let me propose to you a back who can offer you a bit of solace and hope: Mr. Charles-in-Charge.
When I scan the list of top-10 ranked backs this season, outside of the top three (Foster, Rice, McCoy), I can think of a question mark for every one of them. Will MJD ever show up? Will Chris Johnson return to his former self? What effect will Michael Bush, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jefferey, and to a lesser extent, Evan Rodriguez (all word out of Bears camp has been that he is impressive) have on Matt Forte? Will Marshawn Lynch repeat? Will McFadden stay on the field? How much do we really know about DeMarco Murray?
Let me present to you a light in the darkness, a beacon of sanity in the rounds of insanity: Jamaal Charles.
Jamaal Charles Fantasy Football 2012
1) Injury Concerns
Jamaal Charles was healthy for his entire 2010 campaign. Let me say that again: he was healthy for his entire 2010 campaign. How many other backs can you say that about? “He was healthy for the entire 2010 season.” Even Darren McFadden only managed to stay on the field for 12 games and a quarter-ish. Many of us remember 2010... I do! Jamaal Charles won me my league. He had double-digit carries in every game of 2010, his lowest being exactly 10 (and in both games with ten he had 2 and 5 receptions, also). He didn’t miss a single game, and he outperformed almost every back in fantasy. In 2011, he injured his ACL and that was that. We cursed him, he received (entirely uncalled-for) Twitter hate. He faded into the shadows.
But, the injury happened in week two, I saw it on Direct TV http://www.directstartv.com/. Unlike a late-season sitdown, Jamaal Charles had most of 2012 to rest, rehab, and recover. ACL tears can be tricky and can lead to other injuries, but Charles has had nearly 10 months to rehab carefully and steadily. And like his explosion in 2010, when he had Thomas Jones carrying a heavy load for him, Charles now has Peyton Hillis to bruise up defenses before his speed and playmaking can take over.
Speaking of Hillis, another knock on Charles’ reliability is the ever-present “Vulture argument.”
“Hillis is huge!” you’ll say. “He is a behemoth in the body of a demigod!” OK, wonderful. He may get the goal-line work, as even Thomas Jones did. But again looking closely at 2010, Jamaal Charles only received 20+ carries THREE TIMES all season. Three times. By comparison, he had 13 carries or fewer eight times. Charles does not need a huge workload to excel: he needs a healthy ACL.
Then that begs the question: well what can he do with his touches? While it’s hard to say the surround offense in Kansas City has improved drastically, Hillis is still a better second option than Jones and the inclusion of Doug Baldwin can’t hurt matters.
3) Draft Value
I’ve typically seen Charles ranked between the 8th and 12th-best available running back and anywhere from 20-30 overall in most standard drafts/charts. That means in a ten team league, he’s available towards the end of the second round. Players above him I’d take Charles over? How about Larry Fitzgerald and the QB-less Cardinals? Or MJD, who still hasn’t shown up for a single team activity? Or Mike Wallace, who only recently ended a holdout of his own?
In the early rounds, studs are being passed on because of uncertainty. I think too many owners make the mistake of lumping Charles in that same category of question-mark running backs. It behooves us, usually, in fantasy to have a short memory. But Charles, when healthy, does not need many touches to produce, and unlike many backs surrounding him, he last played a full, 16-game schedule (where he was healthy for every game) as recently as two years ago. He has youth on his side and someone to spell him to reduce his workload in Hillis. For a RB-1 going in the second round, you could certainly do much worse.
Best of luck, fantasy drafters. As always you can follow me on twitter: @petethegreekff