Chiefs’ Charles to lead charge of breakout backs

The NFL has been blessed with the addition of explosive young backs over the past few seasons, most notably the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson, the latest 2,000-yard rusher.
 
Before the league welcomes more playmaking backs in the draft, here’s a look at five second- and third-year ball carriers who are good bets to have breakout seasons.
 

With his speed and versatility, Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs' big-play threat.
With his speed and versatility, Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs’ big-play threat.

1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
The team recently had great success with Priest Holmes, an unheralded former Texas Longhorn. So why not another? If you didn’t watch Kansas City over the second half of last season, you missed out on why Charles leads this list.

 
In the final eight games, Charles rushed for 968 yards on 161 carries, an average of more than six yards per attempt. He also showed his versatility by scoring on a reception and a 97-yard kick return.
 
One of Charles’ biggest assets is his suddenness in the open field. "He’s super-quick, and he can be gone instantly, whether he’s getting the ball handed off to him or on a screen," said Raiders middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, currently a restricted free agent. "He’s a guy who can make a big play once a game."
 
Although the Chiefs signed former Jet Thomas Jones this week, coach Todd Haley intends to keep Charles as the star of the show. With Jones taking on some of the physical work between the tackles, Charles’ legs will be fresher to explode as a return specialist and in passing situations.  
 
Whereas Jones’ addition will help Charles and the Chiefs, the Jets’ decision to let Jones go was made easier by Greene’s terrific playoff performances. In New York’s upset wins over Cincinnati and San Diego, Greene turned 44 carries into 263 yards and two touchdowns.
 
Now the Jets' feature back, Shonn Greene could challenge for the rushing title.
Now the Jets’ feature back, Shonn Greene could challenge for the rushing title.

Greene is more compact and runs with more power than Charles. As the new lead back on a team that led the league in rushing last season, Greene is in good position to challenge for the league’s rushing crown.

 
After starring against tough SEC defenses for Georgia, Moreno had a challenging rookie season. His health was affected by an early knee sprain, followed by shoulder, arm and wrist woes. His running style also wasn’t a perfect fit in Denver’s traditional zone-blocking scheme.
 
Although he was limited to 3.8 yards per carry and didn’t have a 100-yard rushing game, he managed to grind out 1,160 yards from scrimmage and 9 TDs.
 
"He did a good job of overcoming injuries and showing his toughness," Morrison said. "He kind of found himself at the end of the season."
 
To help Moreno’s strengths as an inside runner in 2010, the Broncos are scrapping their old scheme and inserting bigger interior linemen who will rely more on power than athleticism to create holes.
 
Just staying healthy for most of 2009 was a big development for Jones, who was rewarded with double-digit touches down the stretch. With his speed and playmaking ability, he was a major factor in the Cowboys’ strong regular-season finish — and he kept it up in the playoffs against Philadelphia and Minnesota.
 
Staying healthy is key for Darren McFadden, whose carries will increase.
Staying healthy is key for Darren McFadden, whose carries will increase.

Jones has explosive skills similar to Charles’. But at 6-0, 218, Jones is an inch taller, 19 pounds heavier and capable of taking on a bigger load. With more opportunities — Marion Barber and Tashard Choice are also in the mix — Jones can take the same kind of star turn.

 
Like Jones, his former running mate at Arkansas, McFadden should get more opportunities this season. That’s largely because of the Raiders’ recent decision to release Justin Fargas. With McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders have the one-two punch to lift their rushing attack to where it was three seasons ago with Fargas and LaMont Jordan in those roles.
 

Health issues are the only thing keeping McFadden from achieving greatness. He battled turf toe problems as a rookie in 2008 and had knee surgery last season.

 
"It’s just a matter of staying healthy," Morrison said. "He can be that dynamic all-around back, a power runner who also has great hands."
 
This story appears in March 12’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.
The NFL has been blessed with the addition of explosive young backs over the past few seasons, most notably the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and the Tennessee Titans’ Chris Johnson, the latest 2,000-yard rusher.
 
Before the league welcomes more playmaking backs in the draft, here’s a look at five second- and third-year ball carriers who are good bets to have breakout seasons.
 

With his speed and versatility, Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs' big-play threat.
With his speed and versatility, Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs’ big-play threat.

1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
The team recently had great success with Priest Holmes, an unheralded former Texas Longhorn. So why not another? If you didn’t watch Kansas City over the second half of last season, you missed out on why Charles leads this list.

 
In the final eight games, Charles rushed for 968 yards on 161 carries, an average of more than six yards per attempt. He also showed his versatility by scoring on a reception and a 97-yard kick return.
 
One of Charles’ biggest assets is his suddenness in the open field. "He’s super-quick, and he can be gone instantly, whether he’s getting the ball handed off to him or on a screen," said Raiders middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, currently a restricted free agent. "He’s a guy who can make a big play once a game."
 
Although the Chiefs signed former Jet Thomas Jones this week, coach Todd Haley intends to keep Charles as the star of the show. With Jones taking on some of the physical work between the tackles, Charles’ legs will be fresher to explode as a return specialist and in passing situations.  
 
Whereas Jones’ addition will help Charles and the Chiefs, the Jets’ decision to let Jones go was made easier by Greene’s terrific playoff performances. In New York’s upset wins over Cincinnati and San Diego, Greene turned 44 carries into 263 yards and two touchdowns.
 
Now the Jets' feature back, Shonn Greene could challenge for the rushing title.
Now the Jets’ feature back, Shonn Greene could challenge for the rushing title.

Greene is more compact and runs with more power than Charles. As the new lead back on a team that led the league in rushing last season, Greene is in good position to challenge for the league’s rushing crown.

 
After starring against tough SEC defenses for Georgia, Moreno had a challenging rookie season. His health was affected by an early knee sprain, followed by shoulder, arm and wrist woes. His running style also wasn’t a perfect fit in Denver’s traditional zone-blocking scheme.
 
Although he was limited to 3.8 yards per carry and didn’t have a 100-yard rushing game, he managed to grind out 1,160 yards from scrimmage and 9 TDs.
 
"He did a good job of overcoming injuries and showing his toughness," Morrison said. "He kind of found himself at the end of the season."
 
To help Moreno’s strengths as an inside runner in 2010, the Broncos are scrapping their old scheme and inserting bigger interior linemen who will rely more on power than athleticism to create holes.
 
Just staying healthy for most of 2009 was a big development for Jones, who was rewarded with double-digit touches down the stretch. With his speed and playmaking ability, he was a major factor in the Cowboys’ strong regular-season finish — and he kept it up in the playoffs against Philadelphia and Minnesota.
 
Staying healthy is key for Darren McFadden, whose carries will increase.
Staying healthy is key for Darren McFadden, whose carries will increase.

Jones has explosive skills similar to Charles’. But at 6-0, 218, Jones is an inch taller, 19 pounds heavier and capable of taking on a bigger load. With more opportunities — Marion Barber and Tashard Choice are also in the mix — Jones can take the same kind of star turn.

 
Like Jones, his former running mate at Arkansas, McFadden should get more opportunities this season. That’s largely because of the Raiders’ recent decision to release Justin Fargas. With McFadden and Michael Bush, the Raiders have the one-two punch to lift their rushing attack to where it was three seasons ago with Fargas and LaMont Jordan in those roles.
 

Health issues are the only thing keeping McFadden from achieving greatness. He battled turf toe problems as a rookie in 2008 and had knee surgery last season.

 
"It’s just a matter of staying healthy," Morrison said. "He can be that dynamic all-around back, a power runner who also has great hands."
 
This story appears in March 12’s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only daily digital sports newspaper, sign up today.
 
Vinnie Iyer is a staff writer for Sporting News. Email him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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