As you might have heard Jamaal Charles is now a Denver Bronco. An exciting, big-name signing that potentially adds the type of explosiveness that the Broncos have been lacking out of their backfield for a while. In the midst of all the excitement for his signing, there is a legitimate question as to what Charles has left in the tank. What type of player is he? More importantly, how has his game changed since the ACL surgery that cut his 2015 season short after five weeks and that led to swelling in his right knee, thus limiting him in 2016.
So we’ve gone back to watch Charles in those few appearances in 2015 and 2016 right before and right after his surgery, to see what can be expected of Charles if he can get back to his pre-injury form, or if he's limited to his post-injury form.
Charles’ vision, balance, and quickness are still at a high level, even in his 2016 tape when he clearly wasn’t himself. He doesn’t necessarily miss tackles with quick twitch movement or jump cuts but more subtle fakes. His ability to keep his balance when he seems to be falling gains him a lot of extra yardage and is a very underrated quality.
His acceleration still looks top notch, as Charles stands out for his ability to quickly separate from defenders in space or his ability to push runs outside for big gains.
The former Chiefs great is a big weapon out of the shotgun both as a receiver and runner. This is important for how Denver could use him and the type of space he could open up in the offense.
Jamaal still misses lots of tackles, is elusive and with his vision and balance and still gets mostly positive yards every play. He's rarely brought down by the first defender.
Can still run inside thanks to his vision and patience, but that won’t be his bread and butter. He runs low to the ground, and his vision is a big advantage up the middle.
Has speed to kick runs outside and make people miss. His lateral mobility is still as good as it gets.
Even at this age, Charles is a huge factor as a receiver out the backfield. His ability to beat linebacker’s one on one with ease is still a big advantage. He’s also a valuable dump off option as he always seems to get open quickly and should prove to be a great security blanket for the Broncos quarterbacks.
In his one 2016 game with extended touches, he was used a decent amount on third-and-short, and goal-line type plays. Even if his size isn’t an advantage his ability to make defenders miss and vision still make him a valuable asset on short yardage situations.
Above all else, of course, durability is the biggest concern with Charles' signing, as his ability to return to 100-percent after his injury and subsequent swelling that's kept him out for good part of two seasons is an unknown.
At this point in his career, Charles should mostly be an outside runner and receiving back. He’s not a full-time player and will need to be on a pitch count of sorts with manufactured touches to get him involved. Keeping him fresh and healthy will be important.
Ball security can be an underrated issue for Charles who has 21 career fumbles - 15 in his last 54 games.
He didn’t look nearly as explosive, quick, or fast in 2016 as he did in 2015 - though in fairness he was dealing with the swelling and wasn't fully healthy. Even if not fully healthy while playing in 2016, he showed that he can still be useful if he has a less explosive burst. Still, Denver’s hoping he can get back to his pre-injury play where he was much more dynamic.
Charles won’t truck over anyone. He can get low and gain extra yards up the middle to some extent, but that’s not his game.
Summing it up
One thing that’s remained great in Charles is his ability to make defenders miss, thanks to his balance and vision - which includes patience as well. Despite his size and lesser speed when he clearly wasn’t himself in 2016, he constantly made the first defender miss and almost always managed to get positive yards this way. That'll help the Broncos immensely, particularly on third-down, where Charles will be a dangerous matchup regardless of what version reappears.
If he can return to his form in 2015, watch out. His burst and explosiveness will make him a big factor in Denver’s offense combined with his other tools. If he’s limited but still healthy, say 80-percent of his explosiveness, he’s still an asset as a versatile runner who can get open in the passing game.
Obviously, how much of his athleticism remains will be a huge question for the veteran back going forward and is what makes this signing somewhat uncertain.
In Kansas City, Andy Reid used him quite a bit on plays with misdirection action pre-snap, particularly with Tyreek Hill going in motion or fake reverse handoffs. This action would stretch opposing defenses laterally while Charles could attack downhill once he got the ball. Look for the Broncos to use some similar looks now that they have more athletes of Hill’s level like rookies Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie.
Charles’ last 100-yard rushing game was against the Broncos in 2015, the only time that season that an opposing runner was able to run for over 100-yards against Denver’s powerful championship defense. The hope is that he can return to that form and be a playmaker for the offense.