Why Charcandrick West Is the Running Back to Own in Kansas City

A little-known, undrafted free agent will get the first crack at replacing Jamaal Charles.

Sunday had the makings of a potential bounce back game for the Kansas City Chiefs.

But Sunday was not a bounce back game for the Chiefs.

The Bears were fresh off their first win of the season, but Jay Cutler would be without two of his top playmakers in Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal.

The matchup looked juicy for Jamaal Charles and company as the Bears' defense ranked 30th in our schedule-adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) metric coming into the game. After three straight losses to the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, and Cincinnati Bengals -- a combined 12-0 -- the Chiefs returned home to Arrowhead to face a struggling squad but could not take advantage.

Not only did Kansas City cough up a 17-6 fourth quarter lead, they lost Charles for the season after he went down early in the third quarter with a torn ACL.

In years past, Knile Davis would be a no-brainer add in fantasy football, as he’s been the primary running back when Charles has missed time.

But Charcandrick West -- wait, who? -- has been running as Charles’ backup in recent weeks and it appears as though he’ll get the first crack at replacing the Chiefs dynamic playmaker.

Just Who Is Charcandrick West?

West, an undrafted free agent out of Division II Abilene Christian, spent much of last season on the Chiefs' practice squad.

As pointed out by Aaron Watson this preseason, West is an impressive athlete, posting similar measurables to Charles.

During the preseason, West rushed 28 times for 136 yards, good enough for a 4.9 yards per carry average. He added 6 receptions for 45 yards.

West didn’t see any action in the first three games of the year, but over the past two weeks, he’s been sprinkled in on the Kansas City offense. In Week 4, he rushed 5 times for 17 yards, posting a 0.02 Rushing NEP per rush average and a 40 percent Success Rate -- the percentage of positive runs made in terms of NEP. NEP measures how many points per play a player adds to his team’s point total based on historical expectation. (You can read more about NEP in  our glossary.)

Average running backs generally maintain a -0.02 or -0.03 Rushing NEP per rush average. Most running backs will have a negative Rushing NEP score, as rushing is less efficient than passing.

West carried the ball 7 times for 31 yards in Sunday’s tilt against the Bears, and through five weeks, he’s posted 0.05 Rushing NEP per play and a 50 percent Success Rate on 12 carries.

Following the injury to Charles, West was the first back in and dominated the snaps throughout the second half.

What About Knile Davis?

Davis has been a productive backup for Kansas City over the past two years in terms of raw numbers, posting stat lines of 32-132-1 and 27-81-2 in his two spot starts for Charles.

Last season, Davis posted a 3.5 yards per carry average, rushing 134 times for 463 yards and 6 touchdowns. He added 16 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown through the air.

While Davis’ previous stat lines could lead one to believe he’ll again step into a starting role, a closer look at his efficiency says otherwise. Davis posted a -0.16 Rushing NEP per play last year, ranking him 43rd out of 43 running backs with at least 100 carries.

In 2013, Davis was only slightly better, posting a -0.12 Rushing NEP.

Davis’ Success Rate in 2014 was 31 percent, again worst of the 43 backs with more than 100 carries. For some perspective, Toby Gerhart (33.3 percent) ranked 42nd in Success Rate and Ben Tate (33.6 percent) ranked 41st.

So far this season, Davis has carried the ball 11 times for 27 yards, good enough for a paltry 2.5 yards per carry average. While a small sample size, Davis has posted a -.04 Rushing NEP and 36.4 percent Success Rate.

On the season, here’s how Davis and West stack up:

Player Carries Yards YPC Rushing NEP Per Play Success Rate
West 12 48 4.0 0.04 50.0 %
Davis 11 27 2.5 -0.04 36.4 %

Again, samples are small, but West has been the better player during the season, and Davis has shown a penchant for being woefully inefficient over larger samples.

How Good Is the Kansas City Offense This Year?

Prior to his injury Sunday, Charles had been the second highest scoring running back in both ESPN and Yahoo standard scoring leagues.

Through five weeks, the Kansas City offense 19th in Adjusted NEP per play, 21st in per-play passing, and 13th in per-play rushing. The Chiefs have only faced one top-10 rush defense thus far: the Broncos who rank eighth.

The schedule appears to lighten up for the Chiefs over the next three weeks. They’ll travel to Minnesota in Week 6 and face a defense that ranks 29th against the run.

Then in Week 7, the Chiefs host the Steelers, third in rushing defense, before facing the Lions in Week 8, who rank 18th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP.

Now in his third season with the Chiefs, Andy Reid’s offense ranked 13th in Adjusted NEP per play last year, and Charles finished as fantasy’s seventh overall running back in both ESPN and Yahoo standard scoring leagues.

The Chiefs have averaged 23.4 points per game this year, tied for 14th best in the league. There have been some rumblings that this backfield will turn into a committee, but with West stepping in as the primary ball carrier to start, his potential production as the lead back in this offense is undeniable.

Moving Forward

For the rest of the season, we project West for 112.25 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues -- 20th among running backs -- and Davis for 51.06 points -- 54th among running backs.

Davis has been the primary handcuff for Charles over the past two seasons, but this year, it’s West who has the opportunity and the talent to be the team’s starting running back, making him the preferred back to own in Kansas City.

But if West falters, the Chiefs know they have a back in Davis, who has been productive albeit inefficient in relief of Charles in the past.