— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —
This was a brief ‘Rewind’ because I didn’t need to watch every game. The perplexity of Spencer Ware’s 2016 is that he was so terrific the first 5–6 games of 2016 and then faded away the rest of the way. Why? He was SOOOO good to start the year – why would he drop off? Was it skills, stamina, coaches turning on him…what was it?
I watched the first couple of games of 2016 and then skipped ahead to the weaker games later in the season. My notes were clear, and it won’t take a lot of tape talk to express them.
Let me frame the argument on Ware…
Last week, I watched a lot of Todd Gurley 2016 tape for my ‘Rewind’ report on him. A few days later, I watched a bunch of Spencer Ware 2016. If you gave me my choice, as an NFL GM, of either running back to enter the 2017 NFL season with – I’d take Spencer Ware.
Let that settle in for a moment.
I’m not making that statement for effect. I believe it in my heart…with my eyes.
Spencer Ware is as good as or better than Todd Gurley in terms of running back talent. Both are physically big, ‘likes contact’ runners. Only Gurley runs straight ahead…always. He runs into contact and tries to run it over, rarely tries to/sense to evade it. Ware actually shifts around looking for space, so he makes more plays. Gurley is a very capable receiver…a nice ‘B’ out of the backfield. Spencer Ware is an ‘A-‘ receiver out of the backfield. Some of the catches he made in Week 1 (2016), when he posted 7 catches for 129 yards, were terrific. Gurley is better in the open field, quite a bit faster when he’s out of the gates…but Ware isn’t too far behind. Ware is a better back finding space when there is no hole present/obvious.
If you’re coming to my house…you have to accept the fact that my religion is that Spencer Ware is as talented as/more talented than Todd Gurley, and that’s a very hard pill to swallow for folks. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t taste right. Gurley is a top draft pick, universally accepted, a former college star, and NFL Rookie of the Year …who has been a total failure (from expectations) over his last 1.5 seasons of NFL play. Ware is a guy who couldn’t get love at LSU, worked behind Jeremy Hill and Stevan Ridley in college, and was a moderate performer his entire SEC career. He bounced around the NFL early on, was transitioning to fullback some, and then was nearly out of football…but then caught on as a practice squad guy no one cared about for KC. Like with most super-talents without draft status, it took an injury to the starters to force Ware to the roster and into touches. Once people saw what they had, Charcandrick West’s hype bubble popped and Jamaal Charles was moved along swiftly.
Gurley is an aristocrat player – given every excuse and opportunity. Ware is a lower-class street fighter still looked down upon by most in fantasy/football analysis to this day (now, Kareem Hunt is supposed to overtake him).
Spencer Ware is as good as or better than Todd Gurley.
That’s no slam on Gurley…I think he’s incredibly talented as a power runner – just not as good as Ware is as an inside runner or receiver.
So why did Ware start 2016 hot and fade off? I do note that the drop-off is real. Look at Ware’s 2016 splits from Weeks 1–7 and Weeks 8–16…
15.8 carries, 69.2 yards rushing (4.6 ypc), 2.5 catches for 46.2 yards and 0.50 total TDs per game = Ware Weeks 1–7
14.9 carries, 53.6 yards rushing (3.6 ypc), 2.5 catches for 20.3 yards and 0.25 total TDs per game = Ware Weeks 8–16
What happened from Week 8 on?
Ware got banged up in Week 8 vs. Indianapolis. His worst game of 2017 in just 8 carries. He missed the following week and then upon his Week 10 return, he was used a little less, targeted a little less, and his numbers were weaker on yards per carry. Ware ran as tough later into 2016 as he did early on, I thought. I didn’t notice any huge drop-off physically, but I did notice there were more defenders playing up on the line when Ware ran. I noted on my re-watch notes – it’s almost as if the other team knows exactly when Ware/KC is calling a running play.
Whether it was the O-Line or Tyreek Hill stealing thunder/forcing more defenders closer to the line in general, or Ware was slightly banged up…the Chiefs didn’t use Ware to the fullest the second half of the year. He was one of the league leaders in total yards the first few weeks of 2016 and then he faded off to a very quiet, not terrible, but quiet finish.
There were also a few times that the Chiefs inserted Charcandrick West in on goal line situations…the 200-pounder in for the 225-pound Incredible Hulk-built Ware. It made no sense. Tyreek Hill took some carries close to the goal line as well. After watching several 2016 games back, I was left wondering what the Chiefs were doing having Ware pound the offense down the field and then come off at the goal line for an inferior runner who weighed about 25 pounds less (West).
Worse than the running rotation near the goal line was the shift away from Ware in the passing game after Week 1. In the KC opener, Ware caught 7 passes for 129 yards. He caught simple passes but he also darted from the backfield down the middle and caught passes like a WR would. He has terrific hands. When they’d get Ware the ball on a simple pass, Ware would turn it upfield adeptly and be nearly unstoppable/untackleable. After his 7-catch game Week 1, Ware’s catches in games the rest of the season: 2-1-1-2-2-2-3-2-2-3-1-3-2. You have to be sick in the head to be employed by the Chiefs and watch Ware’s Week 1 performance in the passing game and then never go back to it again the rest of the season.
The NFL is constantly sick in the head. The absolute worst people at any job are offensive coordinators in the NFL. They are success adverse and only care about super-elaborate plays that trick the opponents. You don’t need to be an O-C genius if you have Aaron Rodgers or David Johnson just carrying the team. So, O-Cs take back the spotlight by using the stars as decoys…like Brandin Cooks in New Orleans. In 2015 and early 2016, the Packers possessed the greatest QB talent (not the greatest QB) of our generation…and yet went heavy with a run game…or tried. David Johnson sat third string behind Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington for half+ of a season…until injury forced DJ into the main role in 2015, which has worked out pretty swell since.
I don’t know how KC will use Spencer Ware in 2017, but I know this – he’s one of the 5–7 most gifted RB talents in the NFL.
Argue away at what that will mean for fantasy. Project his carry counts and targets and output, and we’ll all have different theories and none of us will be wrong in theory. All I can tell you is that Ware is incredibly talented as a running back, and if KC gives over to him fully…he could be a 1,500+ total yard producer and a 10+ TD a season guy. Or they can keep switching him in and out with Kareem Hunt and Charcandrick West, and he’ll be an RB2 again.
By comparison, and why you have to rank him higher for fantasy – Todd Gurley will get all the touches no matter what. Ware, just as good, was rotated in and out some last year for inferior talents to take touches. If KC gives into more Ware like they did in Weeks 1–6…Ware defeats Gurley in fantasy 2017.
In these situations, I tend to believe superior talent wins out in the end on an NFL roster. Not ‘the better man wins’…I mean when something is truly superior even Mike McCarthy and Bruce Arians can’t screw it up. Darrell Bevel, yes, he will find a way to screw it up…but everyone else – they’ll eventually give in to the talent because it hits them over the head with a 2×4 repeatedly.
Here’s to hoping Spencer Ware clocks Andy Reid in the head with that 2×4 some more in 2017…
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