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What are Jamaal Charles owners to do?

9/18/2011

I'd sure like to be optimistic about the 0-2 Kansas City Chiefs from this point forward, but I just can't do it. Sure, with fantasy stud Jamaal Charles likely out for the season after tearing his left ACL, that brings opportunity for veteran Thomas Jones and versatile youngster Dexter McCluster. And with the running game looking a whole lot different/worse, I suppose I could make the case this is a good time to trade for wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, because the Chiefs will be throwing a lot. Bottom line is it sure looks like a 3-13 season for the defending AFC West champs. Andrew Luck, anyone?

It stinks that Charles, a consensus top-three fantasy pick this season, has rushed for his last yard until 2012, but that's what it looks like after he ruined his left knee on the first drive of Sunday's demolition in Detroit. While I ranked Charles well for this week, it certainly was in the back of my mind that the team's embarrassing 41-7 home loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 1 was not a fluke, and it could prevent Charles from repeating his terrific 2010 campaign, when only Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson scored more standard fantasy points among running backs. Now it really doesn't matter.

Jones is an obvious top free-agent pickup for Week 2, following in the footsteps of other old, past-their-prime running backs who have become relevant recently, including Willis McGahee and Cadillac Williams. What is this, 2005?

For all the hate directed at Jones, he did rush for 896 yards and score six touchdowns last season, earning him a tie for 24th among running backs (with LeGarrette Blount) in fantasy points. I mean, people have done worse. He was Cedric Benson-like with his unimpressive yards-per-carry -- 3.7 for the season, but 2.8 in the second half -- and he doesn't catch passes out of the backfield, but every starting running back matters in fantasy. I just wouldn't think he'll be worth activating at any point soon, if ever.

The wild-card here is Ole Miss product McCluster, a smallish speed demon in the DeSean Jackson mold who did his best work in the return game as a rookie. In ESPN leagues, he is already eligible at running back and wide receiver -- he's this year's version of Danny Woodhead, I suppose -- and the Chiefs have given him 12 rushing attempts through two weeks. He has gained 93 yards that way, a cool 7.7 yards per tote. Could he be the next Charles? It's unlikely. McCluster is 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds (at best), and if it's going to be a lost year, setting him up for a potential injury seems an odd move. I'm thinking the Chiefs trust Jones to handle most of the rushing attempts, and they will sprinkle in McCluster at times. I thought McCluster would be a factor at wide receiver last season, but it didn't happen.

The home run hitter here, of course, is not Jones. The veteran was a 14th-round pick in ESPN average live drafts, but his owners quickly lost interest, and now he's among the most dropped players. That will change Tuesday. McCluster is out there in more than 93 percent of leagues. That should change as well. Honestly, I don't think Jones will be good enough to help a fantasy team win a championship; add him if you must and enjoy his eight fantasy points for one of those annoying bye weeks when you're down to nothing. McCluster could be much more. Or the dreck surrounding him on the Chiefs could simply make everyone on this team irrevelant.

A week ago I wrote positively about Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne remaining relevant while most of his teammates looked awful. That's Dwayne Bowe now. Matt Cassel is going to be busy throwing the football, and Bowe should have some decent games. But I'm not optimistic he'll approach what he did last season. The nasty Chiefs schedule had me thinking that anyway, but now that the Chiefs have been outscored 89-10 and a road tilt in San Diego awaits, I can't say Bowe is a lock for my top-20 wide receivers anymore.

If you own Charles, I think you'll need to make a trade for a comparable fantasy option, but good luck with that. Charles was a top-five guy. Jones won't cut it. Neither will McGahee or Williams. Perhaps you can trade for someone who struggled in Week 1, such as Chris Johnson or LeGarrette Blount. Heading into Sunday, I did see some interesting running backs owned in barely any ESPN leagues, but they all need opportunity. Deji Karim of the Jacksonville Jaguars needs Maurice Jones-Drew to limp around. Kendall Hunter in San Francisco awaits a Frank Gore injury. Delone Carter in Indy has promise and his team's attention (11 carries Sunday). Put simply, you Charles owners will have to see if you can make a deal using quarterback or wide receiver depth to replace him.