Could Jamaal Charles Be Better Than Chris Johnson?

Ari HoringSenior Analyst IJanuary 12, 2010

DENVER - JANUARY 03: Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs rushes for a fourth quarter touchdown against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High on January 3, 2010 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

I know what you’re thinking: Is this guy serious?

About a week ago, I would have asked myself the same question. It took me a week after the season ended when I was carefully watching Charles’ highlights and looking at his stats for this argument even to enter my mind.

Especially after knowing that Chris Johnson had run for more than 2,000 yards, a mark that puts him in the same category with many all-time greats, I never even expected to be able to make this argument.

Ultimately, though, his stats and game film don’t lie, and therefore the argument must be made, despite the controversy.

Unfortunately, Charles plays in Kansas City, and therefore it’s not surprising that he hasn’t got the attention he deserves.

When Kansas City was good in the past, the national media didn’t care much for them. Now that they are really bad, it’s no surprise that Charles has gone so far under the radar.

When Larry Johnson was released because of his continuing off-the-field problems, the Chiefs were one of the worst-ranked rushing teams in the league. Their offensive line was putrid and Larry Johnson averaged 2.9 yards per carry for 377 yards.

I’ll admit I wasn’t really optimistic about whether the running game would improve without Johnson.

Many people and Chiefs fans accused Larry Johnson of being washed up. On the other hand, I didn’t think Johnson was washed up but was the result of a poor offensive line.

If Larry Johnson did turn out to be washed up, then my argument claiming Charles is better than Chris Johnson, although still valid, wouldn’t be as effective.

However, after Johnson signed with the Bengals, who have a much better offensive line, he didn’t play like he was washed up, despite limited opportunities. When Benson was hurt, Johnson ran for 107 yards on 22 carries in his second game for the Bengals.

Here are his stats compared with Benson on the season:

Larry Johnson: 46 attempts, 204 yards, 4.4 ypc

Cedric Benson: 301 attempts, 1251 yards, 4.2 ypc

Johnson actually averaged a higher yards per carry than Benson. The point of what I’m saying isn’t to point out who is better between the two because obviously matchups, durability, and other factors have to be taken into account.

My only point is to show Larry Johnson is not the washed-up player portrayed by the media and bitter Chiefs fans.

Therefore, when Jamaal Charles took over for Johnson, he also had the unfortunate problem of playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league.

Despite this though, Charles not only overcame the problem, but was arguably the best running back in the league after becoming the starter.

Charles finished the season with the highest yards per carry in the league for any running back with 120 carries or over, and became the only player in NFL history to rush for 1,100 or more yards in 200 or fewer carries.

Jamaal Charles, despite having 168 fewer carries than Chris Johnson, finished with five runs of over 40 yards, which was two less than Johnson.

Here are his stats compared with Johnson on the season:

Jamaal Charles: 190 attempts 1,120 yards 5.9 ypc 7 TD

Chris Johnson: 358 attempts 2,006 yards 5.6 ypc 14 TD

If you have ever watched Charles play, you would have noticed his running style is very similar to Chris Johnson’s and his appearance is as well. I honestly can say that I have never seen two elite players so similar at the running back position like these two.

If I didn’t know any better, I might think they were clones of each other. Chris Johnson and Jamaal Charles are both 5'11" and Johnson is listed at 200 pounds while Charles is 199 pounds.  

Although Chris Johnson has already been given the title of the fastest player in the NFL, I’m not really sure who’s faster.

Chris Johnson did have a faster 40-yard dash time at the combine with 4.24 compared to Charles’ 4.36. However, Charles might be faster past 40 yards.

Charles was an all-American in four different fields his freshman year before giving up track to concentrate on football. He ran a 6.68 60-meter dash and a 10.18 100-meter dash his freshman year at Texas University.

Obviously, Charles hasn’t played enough such that it would be fair to say that he is outright better than Chris Johnson. However, I do believe that for the second half of the season, it is fair to claim that Charles was better. 

The title of this article isn’t asking if Charles has had a better career, but rather wondering: Could he be a better RB now or even down the line?

This is obviously a hard question to answer, and I can show you stats all day, and many of you are going to say Johnson no matter what. 

I recommend you watch their highlights from this season and judge for yourself. Chris Johnson probably does have more quality highlights, but he did have 168 more carries, so that isn’t very surprising.

Highlights of both players can be found at the bottom of this link.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.