Jamaal Charles is Awesome

I have highlighted Jamaal Charles in the past. I believe he's the most underappreciated great running back in a long time. That lack of appreciation makes sense in a way. Well, no, it doesn't make sense, but it's understandable.

Charles was a good player at Texas, but he wasn't really a star, never a serious Heisman candidate or a highlight show sensation. He was a third-round draft pick. He plays for Kansas City, a small-market team in a small-market division — ESPN doesn't even know the Chiefs exist. And because the team hasn't been very good in recent years, there's nothing forcing the media to cover its games. Charles kind of slips through the cracks.

Until you look at his stats, that is. They jump off the page. There's one in particular that caught my attention recently, and I can't believe I didn't notice it sooner. Last season, Charles rushed for 1,509 yards with a 5.3 average per carry. That's exceptional, making Charles one of only 23 players with 1,500 rushing yards and a 5.0 average in the same season. Of the other 22 players, 17 are either in the Hall of Fame or not eligible yet. The others are Tiki Barber, Terrell Davis, Garrison Hearst, Priest Holmes, and Robert Smith, all of whom were very good.

But that's not the stat. This is: 2012 was the third time Charles has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season, and all three times, he has averaged over five yards per attempt. That is an extraordinarily rare accomplishment. Only six players have three seasons of 1,000 yards and a rushing average of five yards or better:

Jim Brown (five times)
Barry Sanders (five times)
O.J. Simpson
Marshall Faulk
James Brooks
Jamaal Charles

Brooks is another badly underrated player — his stats are basically the same as Roger Craig's — but that's another article. Charles has combined production and efficiency at a level that many great players never reach. There are post-merger, Hall of Fame RBs who never had a 1,000-yard, 5.0-average season: Marcus Allen, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, Floyd Little, Curtis Martin, John Riggins, Thurman Thomas. Many more great runners never had that kind of season. Edgerrin James. Jerome Bettis. Corey Dillon, Eddie George, Ricky Williams. Current players like Arian Foster, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew. It's not easy. Charles has done it not once, or even twice, but three times. Every full season of his career. He's in a club that only includes five other people, and four of them are among the top 10 RBs in history.

Almost as remarkable is that Charles did all this for KC teams that went a combined 16-32 in those three seasons. It's easier to maintain a strong rushing average on good teams than bad ones, and the other players with three 1,000-yard seasons of 5 or more yards per carry had much better team records:

Chart

If you omit his rookie season, when he barely played (67 att), and 2011, when he missed 14½ games, Charles rushed for 1,000 yards with a 5-yard average in each of his first three full seasons, a unique accomplishment. Last year's 5.29 average was actually the lowest of Charles' career. His lifetime average, 5.79, is so far the best of any running back in history. Below are the top 10 career rushing averages in NFL history, with at least 750 attempts:

1. Michael Vick, 7.02
2. Randall Cunningham, 6.36
3. Jamaal Charles, 5.79
4. Marion Motley, 5.70
5. Jim Brown, 5.22
6. Mercury Morris, 5.14
7. Adrian Peterson, 5.05
8. Joe Perry, 5.04
9. Gale Sayers, 5.00
10. Barry Sanders, 4.99

That's two quarterbacks, then Charles. Five of the other seven RBs are Hall of Famers, and another certainly will be (Peterson). Again, Charles is in really select company here. But this time, he's at the top of the list. That average isn't sustainable over a long career, but it's likely that Charles will end up in the same neighborhood as Brown and Sanders.

What is Charles' most remarkable accomplishment? Is it the 1,500-yard season with a 5.3 average? Three full seasons which all produced over 1,000 yards and over 5 yards per carry? A lifetime average that so far is the best in history? Or was it Charles' 2010 season, when he carried 230 times and gained 1,467 yards, an average of 6.38 per carry? Highest single-season yards per attempt, min. 150 rushes:

1. Jim Brown, 1963: 291 att, 1863 yds — 6.40 avg
2. Jamaal Charles, 2010:
230 att, 1467 yds — 6.38 avg
3. Barry Sanders, 1997:
335 att, 2053 yds — 6.13 avg
4. Joe Perry, 1954:
173 att, 1049 yds — 6.06 avg
5. O.J. Simpson, 1973:
332 att, 2003 yds — 6.033 avg
6. Adrian Peterson, 2012:
348 att, 2097 yds — 6.026 avg
7. C.J. Spiller, 2012:
207 att, 1244 yds — 6.01 avg
8. Jim Brown, 1958:
257 att, 1527 yds — 5.94 avg
9. Jamaal Charles, 2009:
190 att, 1120 yds — 5.89 avg
10. Jim Brown, 1960:
215 att, 1257 yds — 5.85 avg

With one fewer carry, Charles would hold the record. Post-merger, Charles' 2010 is the best by a huge margin — a quarter of a yard. Four of the top 10 are from the last four seasons, and time will tell whether that's because players like Peterson and Charles are just that good, or if the pass-oriented nature of the game facilitates better averages now. But even if rushing for exceptional averages has gotten easier, Charles is doing something none of his peers do. Not Peterson, not Chris Johnson (5.60 in his 2,000-yard season, in case you wondered), not Arian Foster, or anyone else. Jamaal Charles is awesome.

Author's note: fantasy football owners, please keep in mind that your league probably does not award extra points for a high rushing average.

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