Quick – can you name the football player with the highest Yards per Rushing Attempt (minimum of 400 attempts) in NFL history? If you said Jamaal Charles, you would have been wrong. Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles has the highest average per carry at 7.0 yards. In fact, Jamaal Charles comes in at sixth on this particular list, at 5.8 yards per rushing attempt. Still, 6th all-time is not too bad, especially when you consider the 5 players ahead of Charles on this list are all quarterbacks and only Vick has more career attempts.
Charles is, in fact, the all-time leader in Yards per Rushing Attempt for running backs. The five players ahead of him are Vick (791 attempts/5,551 yards/7.0 average), former Kansas Jayhawk Bobby Douglass (410/2,654/6.5), Randall Cunningham (775/4928/6.4), Greg Landry (430/2,656/6.2 – Really???), and Steve Young (722/4,239/5.9). A quick glimpse will tell you that only Vick has more attempts (only 7 more) and only Vick and Cunningham have more yards. After those two, in the top 14, only Marion Motley (828/4,720/5.7 – 7th on the list) has more yards and attempts than Charles. Then you have to go all the way down to the great Jim Brown at 15th on the list to find a another player with more attempts and yards. Brown’s numbers – 2,359 rushing attempts, 12,312 yards, and a 5.2 average in only 9 seasons, plus 262 receptions – are truly remarkable.
Of all the players in the top 14, only Jamaal Charles, former Kansas City Royal legend Bo Jackson (515/2,782/5.4), Spec Sanders (540/2,900/5.4) were running backs, and Motley and Sanders were 2-way players from the 1940’s and 1950’s. The other 10 were all quarterbacks. After Brown at 15, you have to go to 21 to find a post-1970 running back – Mercury Morris (804/4,133/5.1) who played for the Dolphins in the 1970’s. Adrian Peterson (1754/8,849/5.0) and Barry Sanders (3,062/15,269/5.0) are the next truly modern running backs on the list and they are both in at 25th.
What are the chances that Jamaal Charles can maintain his lofting ranking on this impressive list? Consider this – Charles’ worst average per carry over a full season was in 2012 at 5.3, which would still be good enough for 14th all-time and still the second highest for a running back. He carried the ball 285 times, so that 5.3 average is not a fluke. The question that will always haunt Charles, probably until the day he retires, is if his body can hold up to the game-to-game punishment in the NFL. He is only 26 years old, with 5 seasons under his belt, but 705 of his 784 carries have come in three seasons – 2009, 2010, and 2012. He has not been overworked to this point. The Chiefs have been careful with his work load but over time, the physicality of the game will take its toll. The question is when. At 6’1″, 200-pounds, Charles is not a big, physical back so, in theory, he should be able to avoid some of the bigger hits. In reality, he is a competitor who does not mind lowering his shoulder and delivering a shot of his own on would-be tacklers. He is a candidate to break a long one at any time, which has certainly helped his career average, but after a few years, the speed and quickness will diminish.
If the Chiefs are careful with Charles, at his age, he should have three or four more really productive seasons ahead of him. He has already missed nearly a full season (got hurt in game two of the 2011 season and only had 12 carries), but everyone is aware that injuries are just one play away for every single player in the game. Head Coach Andy Reid has shown a propensity to run off the pass in his years in Philadelphia, which can be good for a running back like Charles, who relies on his speed and getting to the open field. With the Eagles, Reid had LeSean McCoy, a shorter, stockier back, who averaged 209 attempts, 967 yards, and 4.6 yards a carry, in four years. With Charles’ game breaking speed, Reid might use Charles a little more than he did McCoy, but it may not be significantly more.
Jamaal Charles very well could maintain his career average, or close to it, over the next few seasons. If his health holds up, and he is used judiciously (and Reid probably will), and his offensive line is effective, there is little reason to think Charles’ average will fall below 5.0 per carry. If he can continue to occasionally break off long gallops toward the end zone, and stay healthy, Chiefs fans may get to witness the continuation of one of the most impressive runners in NFL history. Because of his size and the punishment running backs take on a regular basis from modern defenders, it is doubtful Charles will be able to play long enough or get enough attempts to rack up the career yardage needed to be considered an all-time great, but his average Yards per Rushing Attempt should remain high on the all-time list.
Charles is a dynamic runner and is incredibly fun to watch. Knowing he can go the distance on any given play makes it very exciting to watch him. We don’t for how long he will play in Kansas City but we should be enjoying every moment he is here. He is the greatest running back in the game when it comes to average yards per carry, not just now, but all-time. That is no small accomplishment. Let’s hope he can maintain his place in history.
Thanks to Pro-football-reference.com for all of their great stats.