Unfortunately for the Chiefs, fantasy football owners and stockholders, Jamaal Charles went down two carries into week two with a torn ACL in his left knee and is out for the year. Now the Chiefs are faced with a similar decision that was before them in the 2010 season: who should be the number one back. Thomas Jones, the veteran back who is a steady if unspectacular option, or the flashy skat-back Dexter McCluster.
At the moment, both are IPOing on StarStreet at cautious entry-level prices, Jones at a minimum bid of $1.06 and McCluster at $1.43. Now, stock traders are faced with the same decision as the Chiefs front office: whom do I invest in?
Jones has been a consistent workhorse his whole career with the ability to handle the workload of 25 carries a game. His last two years with the Jets in 2008 and 2009 (the last time he was the undisputed starter) he carried the ball 621 times for 2,714 for an average just under 4.4 yards per carry. Currently, Jones is projected by StarStreet to finish the season with 712 rush yards and three rushing TDs on the ground as well as 17 catches for 119 receiving yards.
The other option for the Chiefs is Dexter McCluster, who is generously listed at 5’8, 170 lbs. McCluster is the type of back that looks like he could break a big play every time he touches the ball with his breakaway speed and versatility. This only being his second year in the league, his sample size is extremely limited (only 39 rushing attempts thus far in his career) but he projects to be a more than adequate back this year with StarStreet predictions of 595 rush yards and 2 rushing TDs to go along with 48 catches, 370 yards and two TDs through the air. With 4.3 speed, he provides the homerun play that Jones doesn’t. Unfortunately, McCluster is also a classic case of boom-or-bust. For every tantalizing 45-yard run, there are 3-4 negative runs and possibly a fumble to boot.
Recently, head coach Todd Haley has said that ideally Jones and McCluster will be splitting carries. While that means 10-12 touches a game for Jones, McCluster will far exceed that total as he’s often lined up as a slot receiver, and is also listed as the punt returner, meaning realistically he’s looking at closer to 20 touches a game. This explains his higher minimum bid price on StarStreet.
So who is a better value at their listed price? It depends what type of risk you’re willing to take and how infatuated you are with potential. Jones’ price is cheap in my opinion. If he’s rushing for 712 yards, then three touchdowns seems too low. He scored 27 touchdowns on 621 carries with the Jets, which comes out to a touchdown every 23 carries. If he’s projected at 12 carries a game for the next 14 games that brings him to 168 carries. If we stick to the same ratio of touchdowns to carries that he’s had over the last few years, one touchdown every 23 carries, that comes out to over seven touchdowns. I think Jones will score closer to five touchdowns and will also provide stability in the backfield. At $1.06, Jones is underpriced in my opinion.
This brings us to McCluster. The key for McCluster is how often he’s going to touch the ball. The biggest concern with McCluster is durability. At 170 pounds, it would be shocking if his body could handle the toll it’s going to be put through this season touching the ball as many times as he does. McCluster is a boom or bust play on StarStreet. It wouldn’t surprise anyone for him to have a day where he rushes for 80-100 yards and has over 60 yards receiving. It also wouldn’t shock anyone if at the end of a game he rushed for 15 yards and 10 receiving yards and had a fumble in there as well. Listed at $1.46, he’s perfect example of a stock that could go either way. McCluster could see his value rise just as easily as he could see it fall.
When I invest in these two players, I’m going to be handling them very differently. I look at Jones as a guy I’m going to hold onto for the duration of the season. He may go up and down a few cents at a time but nothing will ever be extreme. McCluster on the other hand, I look at as a quick buy and sell type of player. If he blows up one week, I would think about selling him while he’s hot, because he’s certainly not a lock to repeat that performance the next week. If he underperforms and his stock drops, I certainly wouldn’t think twice about buying and hoping for a bounce back week. McCluster is also the type of player that has the potential to find himself in the doghouse for trying to create too much and costing the team yards.
Regardless of how McCluster performs at running back, he’ll still be getting touches, which is a nice safety net that Jones can’t provide. Having said that though, unless McCluster breaks out big time, I look at Jones as the safer bet, especially at $1.06. He was once a consistent double-digit touchdown kind of back, and while McCluster could be a game-breaker, he could also be a game-ruiner. For that, I’m investing in Jones.