ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Three years ago, a little-known and undersized running back out of Abilene Christian led the Kansas City Chiefs in rushing, filling in admirably for an injured Jamaal Charles.
These days, Charcandrick West finds himself fighting for a job.
That alone is a sign of just how much deeper and more talented the Chiefs' stable of running backs is this season. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing as a rookie, but there is a crush of ability and experience nipping at his heels.
"There's a good number of backs here that we have," offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said, "and we're very, very blessed and fortunate. We just want to watch these guys compete."
These guys: West, who managed just 72 yards on 18 carries last season; Spencer Ware, who led the Chiefs in rushing two years ago before sustaining a season-ending injury in preseason; Kerwynn Williams, who started six games last season for Arizona; Damien Williams, who appeared in 58 games over the past four seasons in Miami; and Darrel Williams, perhaps the biggest dark horse of the bunch.
Williams backed up Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice the past few years at LSU, a big reason why he went undrafted this past April. But many scouts believe he has the talent to succeed, noting he averaged 5.7 yards a carry last season – better than Guice, a second-round pick.
"I probably say this every year, but the talent pool has gotten deeper," Bieniemy said. "I look forward to it. Why? Because it brings out the best in each and every one of them."
There are a multitude of reasons why the Chiefs have invested so heavily in the position.
For one thing, the value of running backs has swung back to the positive after many had written them off in the era of the pass-happy NFL. Offensive coordinators have started to utilize them in creative ways, employing them as pass-catchers and blockers along with running.
No wonder three running backs were selected in the first round of the draft, and four more in the second round, headlined by Saquon Barkley going to the Giants at No. 2 overall.
Then there's the misfortune that has befallen Kansas City at the position.
Twice the franchise lost Charles to season-ending injuries in his prime, the first time resulting in Jackie Battle leading the team in rushing. Then, after Ware's transition from fullback to running back led to a breakout season, he tore up his knee in last year's preseason game against Seattle.
The Chiefs were fortunate that Hunt emerged as a bona fide star, but they nonetheless headed into the season with a relatively shallow backfield. West handled some spot duty, and Akeem Hunt and an aged C.J. Spiller saw action, but it was quarterback Alex Smith that was second on the team in rushing.
General manager Brett Veach hardly wants new quarterback Patrick Mahomes II to do likewise
"In my mind and obviously in Brett's mind – because he's the one who did this – you can't have enough of those guys," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "We figured, listen, if we have a chance to get good players lets go ahead and better ourselves, let the competition be there and see what happens. I'm expecting Spencer to be back, but you never know, and you've got kids that can play."
The depth has already paid off the first week of camp, giving Hunt a chance to rest a stiff hamstring and Ware an opportunity to slowly get back into game shape.
"I've never shied away from competition," Ware said. "My ultimate goal is to make my team better and to get better as a player – to make myself more valuable for my team and let them be able to use me in any way they can."