Former Texas running back Jamaal Charles is on a hall of fame path in the NFL. It hasn’t always been easy for a man that has had to overcome both injury and Todd Haley in his career, but the first half of Charles’ career is consistent with other hall of fame runners. The star of Kansas City sports is a lone star in a sports city that is starving for them.
Charles is averaging 5.6 yards per carry for his pro career, a number that is better than anyone who ever played pro football. Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers: all of whom are looking up at Jamaal Charles. He’s entering his age 27 season, and his 5.0 YPC season in 2013 represented both a career-worst in efficiency, and a season in which he was selected as one of the two all-pro RBs in the NFL. By comparison, Adrian Peterson has just two career seasons over 5.0 YPC and has just 5 career receiving touchdowns, or two fewer than Charles had last season, his first in Andy Reid’s system. Fumbling has been a concern with Charles dating back to his Texas days, and is the main difference between Charles and Peterson.
Charles is from Port Arthur, TX. Charles was a touchdown creator in his three seasons at UT: 13, 8, and 18 TDs from scrimmage in three seasons. He also averaged more than 6.0 yards per touch in his Texas tenure, but I’m sure you realized that already. Charles was a four star recruit out of high school, and had to shake the label of being a “track-star” straight line runner. If his per-carry averages didn’t dispel that myth, his usefulness as a receiver and a blocker for the Longhorns likely did.
Charles spent two seasons as the Longhorn’s primary ball-carrier, although 2007 was his only season in a true “feature” role. The 2007 season was the Big XII’s first year without Adrian Peterson’s all-world talent since 2003, and Charles led the conference in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. He could have easily been the player of the year in the conference, but Sam Bradford had a fantastic freshman season for the Sooners, and his own quarterback, Colt McCoy, stole some of his thunder. Limas Sweed also enjoyed a breakout year for the Longhorns, and Texas Tech had a receiver by the name of Michael Crabtree. That same year, Graham Harrell led the nation in completions, Kansas won the Orange Bowl with Todd Reesing, and Chase Daniel set every passin record at Missouri. The whole conference was loaded with offensive talent back when Charles played.
That conference is one of the many reasons Charles ended up slipping to the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. He was a sought after player, but he came out in one of the best RB draft years of all time. Five running backs got picked in the first round that year, and eight runners got their names called before Charles. Matt Forte and Ray Rice also slipped out of the first round that season. The Chiefs alone selected three players before Charles.
Charles split time with Larry Johnson in 2008 and 2009, and with Thomas Jones in 2010. Finally granted a featured role as a fourth year player in 2011, and with a new long-term contract, Charles tore his ACL in Detroit in the second game of the season. He returned a year later and rushed for 1,500 yards on a team that won just two games and started Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn at quarterback. Six years into his career, he set a career high and NFL best mark in touchdowns in 2013.
Charles is one of the ten best offensive players in the NFL, and has made a contract that began with an ACL tear look like a bargain. While most teams have avoided giving big money to running backs, Charles has shown that large contracts can still work, if given to the right player. Throughout his Texas and Kansas City career, Charles has proven at every turn that he is more than just a track guy playing running back. He is, in fact, the right player.