ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs selected a running back in each of the past two drafts. They have one of the league’s highest paid wide receivers. They are hopeful a healthy collection of tight ends can make a difference in their passing game.
But no matter how they looked at it, the Chiefs would have felt the absence of running back Jamaal Charles.
And it would have hurt.
The Chiefs avoided that football calamity shortly after Wednesday’s reporting deadline for training camp at Missouri Western State University, agreeing to a contract extension with Charles, their most valuable player and their offensive engine.
Charles should be with the Chiefs on Thursday when they hold their first camp practice.
“Jamaal is a third of their offense,’’ former Chiefs head coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards said. “He’s an explosive player. He’s going to generate points and he’s so difficult to defend because he’s multi-dimensional. They have nobody else capable of doing that.’’
Charles accounted for 35.8 percent of the Chiefs’ yards from scrimmage last season, the highest total in the league.
He was their leader in rushing (1,287 yards), receiving (70 catches for 693 yards) and touchdowns (12 rushing, seven receiving), the player the Chiefs leaned on week in and week out.
The Chiefs would have plugged a body into his spot, but they would have struggled to get half of Charles’ production from any one source. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round in 2013 but Davis averaged 3.5 yards per carry, or 1.5 yards fewer than Charles. He struggled as a pass-receiver and a pass-blocker.
“Davis can run the ball,’’ said Edwards, the Chiefs’ coach when they drafted Charles in the third round in 2008, “but he’s not Jamaal Charles.’’
The Chiefs this year drafted the fast but diminutive De’Anthony Thomas from Oregon in the fourth round. The Chiefs have looked at Thomas as a back and in a variety of other roles, but he’s still a rookie and an unproven commodity.
He’s also 5-foot-9, 174 pounds, and at that size unlikely to be a consistent threat for the Chiefs.
“Thomas is explosive and you can give him the ball a bunch of different ways,’’ Edwards said. “But he’s not an every-down player. He’s just not big enough.’’
The Chiefs had one of the least productive groups of wide receivers in the league last season and failed to add much in the way of proven help. They are hopeful of a bounce-back season from wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, who had the worst full statistical season of his career in 2013 after signing a five-year, $56 million contract. But Bowe will turn 30 in September, so a return to form may be wishful thinking on the part of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs are healthy, for now at least, at tight end after injuries ravaged them at the position last year. But, again, they’re counting on big seasons from unproven players Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris.
Despite their efforts to fortify themselves on offense to the point they can survive without Charles, the fact is the Chiefs aren’t there yet. They can’t survive without him, a fact that soon would have been hammered home had they not moved Wednesday to get Charles into camp.