The most dynamic running back in the NFL is coming off major knee surgery, and his name is not Adrian Peterson. He averages more than six yards per carry in his career, and it’s certainly not Barry Sanders.
Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles has been the league’s best back and you probably have never heard him given that title. After missing almost all of the entire 2011 season, Charles is primed to make sure others take notice when he takes his place amongst the elite.
The NFL has become a two-back league recently. Just about every team has a tandem of competent runners that each complement each other well and ease the burden for one another. With this being the new norm, you rarely see those sturdy workhorse running backs that carry the ball 25 times a game and, with apologies to Peterson, you won’t see them anytime soon.
The new prototype back is Charles: a smaller back with insane home run potential and a knack for catching the football out of the backfield. He is going to carry the ball about 15 times a game and catch a number of passes to convert third downs.
Charles may fly under the radar due to his somewhat limited use in Kansas City, but if anyone has made the absolute most of his given chances, it’s been Charles.
The former Texas standout has averaged 6.1 yards per carry in his career—a yard more than the career averages for Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. Charles likely won’t finish his career with a number that high, but it’s not inconceivable to think that, with some luck and longevity, he can finish his career averaging five yards per carry. That would put him in some illustrious company and make him a safe bet to be Canton bound.
There may be a bit of speculation and foreshadowing in that last paragraph, but the pieces are there for Charles to ascend to the upper echelon on NFL running backs.
In Kansas City, an already solid offensive line got a huge boost with the signing of tackle Eric Winston. Winston, one of the league’s best run-blockers, will join a young talented group that should have no problem creating space for the speedy back.
During the offseason the Chiefs also signed Peyton Hillis, who has bruising style that will be a perfect counter to the blazing speed of Charles. Hillis’ presence will also allow for Charles to make his return from injury at a much more comfortable pace.
Charles should rebound nicely from September’s ACL surgery and will benefit from the fact that his injury occurred so early in last year’s football season. Now that he is rehabbing his knee along with two other prominent Chiefs, Kansas City is looking to rebound from a disappointing 2011 season and Charles is the key.
Charles burst on to the scene during the latter half of his second season after being selected in the third round of the 2008 draft out of the University of Texas. While in Austin, Charles not only excelled on the football field but he was a track star as well. The Texas native was an immediate hit as a redshirt freshman when he scored 11 touchdowns and ran for more than seven yards a carry.
Success did not come as fast in the NFL as Charles was buried on the depth chart behind Larry Johnson for his first season and a half. He played sparingly and was at best thought to be a possible future third-down back. He finally got to start after Johnson was released in 2009.
Once he got the chance to play, Charles never looked back. He finished that season by rushing 190 times for more than 1100 yards, highlighted by a show-stealing effort in the finale where he broke the Chiefs' single-game rushing record. Charles scored two times that game in a rout of the Denver Broncos and ran for 259 yards.
A performance like that was certain to turn heads against a division rival, and now that Charles has their attention he is turning his sights on the rest of the league. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.