Spencer Ware Is the Perfect High-Upside Late-Round Running Back Pick
In my humble and not at all biased opinion (lifetime Chiefs fan), Jamaal Charles is the most effective running back to ever play in the National Football League. The dude is the GOAT. Entering his ninth professional season, he still has yet to register a season with less than five yards per carry. And his career 5.5 yards per carry is the best in NFL history and it really isn't very close. You can argue for other backs in terms of all-time greatness, but no back has ever been as efficient on a per-carry basis.
In 2015, Charles registered 71 carries before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury. He turned those carries into 364 rushing yards -- an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
But his backup, Spencer Ware, was insanely good, too.
Step Aside Jamaal, There's a New GOAT in Town
Just kidding, Jamaal will always be the GOAT. In all seriousness, though, Spencer Ware was really freakin' good last year.
In 2015, Ware registered 72 carries. He turned those carries into 403 rushing yards -- an average of 5.6 yards per carry, thus marking the first season Charles didn't lead the team in yards per carry since 2007. Not bad for a former sixth-round pick.
Not only was Ware more efficient than the GOAT, but he was arguably more efficient than any running back in 2015. Among running backs with at least 50 carries, Ware tied with Thomas Rawls and Karlos Williams for first at 5.6 yards per carry.
Our advanced metrics point towards Ware being arguably the most efficient back in 2015 as well. He ranked second in the league among backs with at least 50 carries in Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush, just trailing Karlos Williams. (Check out more on NEP in our glossary.)
He also ranked third with a 50 percent Success Rate (the percentage of rushes that led to NEP gains) among half backs with at least 50 carries, trailing only Rashad Jennings (50.77 percent) and David Johnson (50.40 percent). Ware's stellar Success Rate helps alleviate some of the concerns that come with a small sample size, since it shows that he wasn't dependent on big plays -- he was consistently gaining points.
Per Pat Thorman of Pro Football Focus, Ware also led all backs with 50-plus carries in yards after contact per attempt and ranked seventh in missed tackles per attempt.
Ware was also incredibly efficient in the red zone in 2015, which isn't overly surprising given his 5'10", 230-pound frame and punishing running style. While Ware has the ability to break long runs (4 carries of 20-plus yards), all 6 of his rushing touchdowns in 2015 came in the red zone.
Of backs with at least 10 red zone carries, none scored at a higher frequency than Ware (50 percent). Karlos Williams was the closest at 36 percent. Ware was also a beast within the five-yard line, trailing only Jeremy Langford in touchdown conversion rate among backs with at least five carries. In fact, only DeAngelo Williams and Jeremy Hill had more total rushing touchdowns within the five-yard line. Williams scored 10 on 16 carries, while Hill scored 8 on 13 carries. Ware needed only seven handoffs within the five to reach the end zone five times.
What to Expect Entering 2016
Ware clearly showed that he is capable of being a fantasy contributor in this offense last year, but that was without Charles and even without Charcandrick West at times. The backfield will be much more crowded entering 2016 with Charles back in the mix.
Well, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher recently reported that Ware is considered the team's number-two back behind Charles, not West. And as a Kansas City native, I can tell you that it is unheard of for Teicher to be off-base with his coverage of the Chiefs.
This news shouldn't be surprising considering Ware outplayed West last year and his between-the-tackles running style is a much better complement to Charles, and it's certainly encouraging news when attempting to project his market share of the running back touches.
While Charles has been a workhorse in the red zone over the past few seasons, it makes a lot of sense that Kansas City would lean more heavily on Ware in 2016 after his impressive showing in the red zone last year. Considering the Chiefs have ranked first, third, and fifth in rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, respectively, a prominent role in the red zone could be all Ware needs to have standalone fantasy value this year.
If the football gods decided to torture Kansas City fans and take away Charles again (two torn ACLs in the past five seasons), Ware could conceivably take over as the lead back, although Teicher also stated that both Ware and West would be involved if Charles went down.
According to Rotoworld's strength of schedule report, Kansas City has just the 25th-most difficult schedule this season, which is just another factor going in Ware's favor entering 2016.
At his current average draft position (ADP), Ware comes with essentially no risk. He's currently being drafted as the 65th running back off the board at 162nd overall. That number is sure to rise with the news that he is likely to be Kansas City's number-two back, but as it stands right now, it's clear that the fantasy community at large doesn't have Ware on their radars.
Considering his worst-case scenario is likely a season of playing second-fiddle to Charles and vulturing the occasional goal line touchdown while his best-case scenario is being an uber-efficient lead runner on one of the best running attacks in the league, Ware's ADP is truly puzzling.
Keep an eye on the reports out of training camp and preseason as we get closer to the regular season, but as of right now, Ware appears to be in the driver's seat for the number-two job behind Charles. If his hypothesized role as a between-the-tackles and goal line grinder comes to fruition, he could be a nice value pick in the later rounds. If Charles goes down with an injury, Ware could be the steal of your fantasy football drafts this season.