KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One year ago, Shaun Draughn was about to take a job stocking shelves at the Wal-Mart in his hometown of Tarboro, N.C. Now he’s the second-leading runner for the Chiefs, the NFL’s top rushing team.
That dramatic improvement in fortune hasn’t caused Draughn to forget his roots. He remembers going undrafted last year out of college at North Carolina, signing with and being released by Washington and then thinking his shot at the NFL might be over.
It’s one of the things the Chiefs like about him.
“When he touches the ball, he tries to prove that he’s good enough and that he’s worthy,” Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel said. “That makes him a pretty effective runner.”
The Chiefs intervened last year before Draughn could take the Wal-Mart job. They signed him to their practice squad and this year, after he made their active roster, they’ve been rewarded for it.
He has 107 rushing yards and a touchdown, more than Peyton Hillis, one of the Chiefs’ main offseason acquisitions. Draughn is gaining 5.9 yards per carry, a healthy average equal to that of the NFL’s leading rusher, teammate Jamaal Charles.
Draughn becomes a more important figure for Sunday’s game against San Diego at Arrowhead Stadium. Hillis didn’t practice Thursday for the second straight day because of an injured ankle, making it unlikely he will play against the Chargers.
So Draughn will be the Chiefs’ top option after Charles. The Chiefs gave the ball to him 39 times between handoffs and passes in last week’s win in New Orleans.
Crennel is aware the Chiefs can’t ask Charles to have that kind of workload week in and week out.
“He was doing well, so I was hoping for another 91-yarder,” Crennel said when asked why Charles played so much against the Saints. “Generally, Jamaal, he’s pretty good about letting me know if he needs a break. He never came to me to say he needed a break. Because he was doing well and we needed him, we used him a little bit.
“It’s game-by-game. Really it is. I think that’s the case with most running backs. You can take some running backs and you can say this guy is a 20 carry per game back, or another back may be a 15 carry per game, but generally, if it’s going well, you don’t mind giving it to him. They don’t mind getting the ball either when it’s going well. It’s when it’s going bad that they really don’t want it.”
With Hillis and Charles in the Chiefs’ backfield, it looked as though Draughn would get only scraps on offense. He began the season as a regular on special teams, something he continues to do.
“He was good enough as a runner because we saw it last year (practicing) against the defense,” Crennel said. “We saw his quickness and his acceleration and things like that. The fact he can help on special teams makes him more valuable.”
But Draughn has been more than an afterthought on offense, even before Hillis was injured. He scored a touchdown on a four-yard run in the season opener against Atlanta.
Draughn was involved after Hillis left the New Orleans game because of his injury. Draughn played mostly in passing situations when the Chiefs tried to find ways to get Charles some rest.
He almost cost the Chiefs a victory in overtime when he fumbled after catching a pass from Matt Cassel and running for yardage. The Saints recovered and returned the ball for a touchdown, but the play was overturned after a video review showed Draughn was down on the ground before the ball came loose.
Draughn was fighting for extra yardage when the ball came out. Though the Chiefs would prefer the ball not come loose so close to the end of the play, they appreciated his effort.
“Everybody that’s not drafted feels like he has something to prove,” Draughn said. “But that’s just the type of player I am. I talked to (Chiefs running backs coach Maurice Carthon) about that. He says to go out there and prove everybody wrong why they didn’t draft you or why (Washington) didn’t keep you.
“Your spot is never secure. You have to make it day to day. You have to work hard regardless of who you are. That’s what I’m going to keep doing.”