When the team announced the signing of Jamal Charles, Broncos fans were thrilled to see the Chiefs star running back of the last decade swapping his red jersey for an orange one, much like how defensive end Neil Smith did so prior to the Broncos back-to-back Super Bowl victories in the late 90’s.
When Charles publicly admitted that playing in Denver was a lifetime dream come true, Charles status with the Broncos faithful skyrocketed before ever even seeing the field. Which by the way is the real reason Broncos fans should be excited about the newly anointed No. 28 in the orange and blue. His abilities on the field; not the fact that Charles openly threw shade at his former organization and admitted to being thrilled for a chance to play the Chiefs twice a year.
Financially, the signing of Charles made perfect sense, as the team was able to bring him in on a one-year deal that is essentially entirely structured on how he performs this season. From a competitive standpoint, Charles is an even better signing. Especially now that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has returned to the mile high city.
Coming off his second major ACL injury of his professional career, it would be absurd to think Charles is going to be the same guy that rushed for over 1,100 yards in four of five seasons between 2008-2013. Used in the right capacity though, Charles has potential to be one of the team’s biggest acquisitions this offseason.
His elusiveness has always made Charles a dangerous back. A world-class sprinter at the University of Texas, Charles has always been able to balance speed with well-timed cuts and great vision in the backfield.
Along with being one of the toughest guys in the league to bring down in the open field, Charles more than proved himself as an every down type back in Kansas City. The veteran left the Chiefs with a 5.5-yard career rushing average, which is the best mark for a running back in NFL history.
Unfortunately for Charles, shouldering that workload nearly single-handedly for the better part of the last decade is largely responsible for his multiple major injuries. That being said, after totaling less than 100 carries (83) over the past two seasons combined, Charles should be fresh and is coming into a situation where he no longer has to be “the guy”.
C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker give the Broncos two traditional running backs to work between the tackles, record the majority of the team’s carries and attack opposing defenses on the ground.
Although Charles will likely see some carries as well, where he has the chance to really thrive in the offense will be in the quick passing game. Going back and looking at the Chargers offense under McCoy over the last four years, running backs consistently have feasted in the passing game.
In the two full seasons Danny Woodhead stayed healthy in San Diego (2013 and 2015), the speedy running back out of Chadron State (Nebraska) recorded a combined 156 receptions for 1,360 yards. Woodhead is not the only back to see success in the passing game under McCoy either.
Melvin Gordon, who is a much more traditional running back than Woodhead also thrived in the passing game with McCoy, totaling 74 receptions for 611 yards over the last two seasons.
Charles is somewhat of a mix of those two running backs, but there should be no reason with his skillset, that he would not see similar success.
Unlike in Kansas City, Charles will not have to be an every down player in the Broncos offense, so the team can pick and choose spots to use him in the offense. The benefit is obviously a fresher Charles, but from a strategic standpoint it keeps defense off balance.
Having to account for the bruising style of Anderson, and Booker’s quickness is exhausting enough for opposing defenses. Mix in Charles to run sweeps off the edge and screens in the open field, and the Broncos have quite the variety of weapons in their backfield.
The Broncos offense struggled mightily on third down and in short yardage situations in 2016. Having Charles to open up the field may be exactly what this McCoy-led offense needs to turn the corner in 2017.