I'm beginning to think Thomas Jones has never owned himself in a fantasy football league.
Why else would he choose to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs?
This is truly a nuclear option for Jones' fantasy value. He goes from running behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines to one of its worst. He goes from being a clear starting halfback to being a clear backup, behind 2009 second-half sensation Jamaal Charles. And he goes from playing for a conservative play-calling administration in New York to Todd Haley, a guy who, if he had his druthers (i.e., if his offensive line could pass block), would throw a bunch more.
When the New York Jets cut Jones, I wasn't surprised. Shonn Greene was stellar in three playoff games and was drafted to be the team's starting rusher in 2010. But despite the fact that Jones turns 32 in August, I still believed he'd latch on somewhere as a starting back, even if it was as the front half of a platoon. I mean, the guy eclipsed 1,300 rushing yards in 2008 and 1,400 rushing yards in '09, and scored 29 touchdowns in those two seasons combined. I've heard some folks claim Jones "fell off a table" in the second half of '09, that he wore down badly, but I just didn't see it. Yes, he was stymied in the playoffs (45 carries, 117 yards, one score) as Greene began to take off, and I'm as dubious of over-30 backs as anyone in the fantasy industry. But Jones did have something left in the tank all the way through December. The notion that his legs have suddenly gone the way of a Shaun Alexander? I think that's just wrong.
And yet here Jones is, signing with Kansas City to play second fiddle behind a rising star in Charles. It's not hard to see this as a 60-40 or even 70-30 split in Charles' favor, with Jones perhaps stealing goal-line work. Certainly, Charles is the more explosive player (he's one of the more explosive players in the entire league, it turns out), and he'll play on third downs, too, because he's the superior receiver. This is worst-case for Jones' fantasy value. I dropped him from the mid-20s to 38th on my running backs list when I heard this news. He's a handcuff for Charles or a late-round gambit. The truth hurts.
As for Charles? Well, this isn't great news for him, either. The Chiefs have made it known that they were concerned he couldn't hold up to the pounding of 20 carries per game going forward. Now he's more likely to live in the 15-carries-per-game neighborhood, with week-to-week variability. He's still a terrific home run threat, but whereas I previously rated him as a first-rounder in my inaugural mock draft this March, now I don't think you can take him there. I bounced him down from my No. 9 rusher to No. 14, under the assumption that he loses touchdowns. He'll still have some spectacular weeks, games when he breaks at least one long scoring run and does his best Chris Johnson impersonation. Unfortunately, though, it seems like Jones' presence means he'll be a bit more feast-or-famine than his prospective fantasy owners would prefer.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.