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AFC West Q&A: Are Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles' best years behind him?

7/6/2015
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Is Jamaal Charles on the decline?

ESPN NFL Insider Dan Graziano believes Jamaal Charles will bounce back from a subpar year.

Today's question: Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles will be 29 and is coming off a season when he went through one nagging injury after another. Are his best years behind him or can Charles rebound to become the force he was earlier in his career?

Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos: Recent history says running backs who crank up the production at 29 years old and beyond are far more the exception than the rule. Last season, just three of the league’s 1,000-yard rushers were 29 or older -- Justin Forsett (1,266 yards), Matt Forte (1,038 yards) and Frank Gore (1,106 yards). And of those three, 2014 was Forsett’s first season with more than 114 carries, so his path is different than many. Charles’ career per-carry average -- 5.5 yards per rush, including 5.0 in each of the last two seasons -- indicate that when he's healthy, his impact is consistent. But in light of the nagging injuries that trailed him last season, in addition to ACL reconstruction in 2011, the Chiefs’ ability to regulate his touches might determine his impact over the course of the season. If they use him with a big-picture approach, he should be able to produce at a level that makes a difference -- and he doesn’t turn 29 until December -- especially if the Chiefs can get the extra defender away from the line of scrimmage with a passing game that has to be more than ornamental.

Bill Williamson, Oakland Raiders: Yes, Charles’ best seasons are probably behind him. But that’s OK. He’s a running back. It’s part of the deal. Of the 16 Pro Football Hall of Fame running backs to begin their careers in the Super Bowl era, only Walter Payton and Curtis Martin were more productive per rush from their age-30 season on than in previous years, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. As a group, the 16 Hall of Famers averaged 4.37 yards per carry and 82.6 yards per game before age 30, and 3.92 yards per carry and 57.8 yards per game after age 30. So, like all running backs, Charles will soon be facing the end of his career. Still, he is supremely talented and I think he can make a difference at times, especially in 2015. But, yes, if history is any indication, the end is in sight for Charles.

Eric D. Williams, San Diego Chargers: It depends on how Kansas City’s revamped offensive line performs in front of him. Charles remains one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. But he can’t do it by himself. Charles needs consistent running lanes so he’s not getting stalled at the line of scrimmage. Along with that, the Chiefs have to consistently throw the football so opposing defenses can’t load the box to stop Charles. Lastly, Chiefs coach Andy Reid has to limit Charles’ touches so he’s most effective when Kansas City needs him most -- at the end of the season.