Fantasy Football: Don't Overvalue Jamaal Charles in Denver

Charles is one of the best backs in NFL history, but his name value could cause him to be overvalued.

Knowing what running back Jamaal Charles is capable of makes him infinitely intriguing for fantasy football purposes. He can run, he can catch, and he can score touchdowns.

But after playing just eight games in the past two seasons, Charles is no longer with his long-time Kansas City Chiefs and instead signed with the division rival Denver Broncos earlier this week.

It's far too early to tell what his fantasy football value will wind up being come August, but it's likely -- given his track record -- that he'll be overdrafted.

Don't make that mistake.

A Poor Offense

In 2016, the Broncos were a weak offense by many measures. They ranked 26th in points per drive, 29th in yards per drive and plays per drive, and 30th in time per drive, despite sitting 16th in average starting field position.

By our expected points model -- Net Expected Points (NEP) -- Denver ranked 25th overall, after adjusting for opponent strength, on a per-play basis.

They were the 25th-best passing offense and 29th-ranked rushing offense.

Charles should help that efficiency (even if he doesn't fully get to the best-back-in-football level he's played at before).

He's Still Really Good

Charles, after tearing his ACL in 2011, came back strong.

Here are his efficiency marks by our Net Expected Points model compared to the other running backs on the Chiefs during the same season, for context.

Jamaal Charles Rushes Rushing NEP/
Team RB
Success Rate Team RB
2012 284 0.01 -0.05 42.25% 45.24%
2013 260 0.05 -0.15 46.15% 29.21%
2014 205 0.11 -0.11 48.29% 37.11%
2015 71 0.10 0.01 45.07% 42.22%

Charles outperformed the efficiency of his backfield mates by a significant margin, both on a per-play basis and in terms of Success Rate, the percentage of carries that added expected points for the offense.

The only season in which that wasn't true was in 2012, with the Success Rate, but Charles still played at the NFL average rate for running backs that season (42.32%) -- after returning from his ACL injury.

As a receiver, Charles was limited to 36 receptions in that 2012 season, producing 0.21 Reception NEP per catch. That ranked him 23rd of 27 backs with at least 30 catches, but he bounced back the following season.

In 2013, Charles got back to 70 catches and had the second-best per-catch efficiency of any back with at least 30 catches (0.78 points per catch). In 2014, he snared 40 catches but was average from an efficiency standpoint (17th in Reception NEP per catch among 32 backs with at least 30 catches).

Overall, Charles remained an efficient runner and a capable receiver even after his 2011 injury. He finished as the RB9 in PPR formats in 2012, the RB1 in 2013, and the RB7 in 2014, per FantasyData.

Sharing the Load

Of course, health isn't the only thing standing in Charles' way of a big fantasy season. Charles had at least 245 touches in those three, top-10 PPR seasons, and he had a robust 320 in 2012 and 330 in 2013.

Nothing suggests he'll come close to that with Denver.

In 2016, Devontae Booker led the team with 174 carries, and C.J. Anderson had 110 of his own. In 2015, Anderson had 152, and Ronnie Hillman had 207. The duo posted 25 and 24 catches, respectively.

Yes, part of the reason why usage was split was because of injuries, but Anderson is ready to be a full participant in OTAs after a meniscus injury in October.

Yes, the Broncos have a new offensive coordinator (Mike McCoy) and a new offensive line coach (Jeff Davidson), but Charles is in a spot where he still needs to compete for work. He's not being handed anything.

The glimmers of hope for eventual Charles owners are that he has the clearest path to being the team's receiving back and that Anderson and Booker were below-average backs by our metrics in 2016. Anderson notched a -0.03 Rushing NEP per play on a 39.09% Success Rate, and Booker was worse (-0.11, 36.21%).


If Charles is healthy, he can probably still outplay Anderson and Booker from an efficiency standpoint even at age 30. After all, he's one of the best running backs in NFL history.

But efficiency isn't enough for fantasy football; the volume needs to be there. And with the Broncos giving Charles a one-year deal with no guaranteed money, well, that might be the biggest red flag of all.

To draft Charles is to bank on both a return to health after turning 30 and for him to beat out Anderson and Booker for enough touches to be fantasy relevant. Perhaps he lasts until the double-digit rounds in your re-draft leagues, but given the name value, it's almost certain he won't.