When looking for running backs, teams didn’t think small running backs could run between the tackles. Jamaal Charles changed that idea.
Recently, Jamaal Charles signed a one day contract to retire as a Kansas City Chief. Jamaal, a former third-round pick from Texas, had played eight years in Kansas City. He holds the all-time rushing record in Kansas City with 7,260 yards rushing yards in his Chief career. Charles was a cornerstone for many bad teams in Kansas City. But he always gave a full effort, no matter how bad things got.
This had me thinking about the legacy of Charles. When growing up, Charles was the cornerstone I watched. I thought he was invincible. I was able to witness his best moments as a Chief. Being able to see the entire prime of Jamaal Charles was something I cherished. The speed and acceleration he displayed, while also being able to run in between the tackles, was a spectacle to be seen forever.
Charles was almost the perfect running back. He had track-level speed on the field and could blow past anyone. He had amazing hands and could catch out of the backfield. He was also elusive with the way he was able to slither his way between the tackles. Everyone remembers how explosive Jamaal was, but what was great about him was his ability to turn a one-yard run into a five-yard run. His motor never stopped, and he wouldn’t give up.
Productivity in the Backfield
Charles was very productive in the NFL. Jamaal had five 1,000 yard seasons as a Chief, making two first-team All-Pro teams, and four Pro Bowls. Jamaal also averaged the most yards per carry of any running back ever, with 5.4. That is the all-time NFL record and something that Charles will be remembered by the most. For a guy as small as Jamaal, being able to continually gain that many yards per carry was special.
What made that accomplishment even better was the fact that he didn’t play with very many good quarterbacks. Charles played with quarterbacks such as Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Tyler Thigpen, and Tyler Palko. None of those quarterbacks were good at all, but it didn’t matter. Since he was invincible, Charles was going to produce anyways.
I had a Jamaal Charles jersey in my closet, and every week I was proud to put that thing on. Charles was a superhuman for me. He could do just about anything he wanted to. And nobody could stop him. My two favorite memories of Charles was his five-touchdown game in 2013 at Oakland and his dominance against the Seahawks in 2014.
I was sitting at home, in 2013, at 3:30, ready to watch the Chiefs play. The Chiefs had lost three of their previous four games and weren’t looking sharp. This all changed on this Sunday though. 14 seconds into the game and Jamaal Charles takes a screen pass from Alex Smith. Charles eludes the tackle left, and sprints down the sidelines for a touchdown. From this moment on, I knew something special was happening.
Charles wasn’t done catching screen passes though. Just seven minutes later, Charles caught another screen, but with one hand this time, and sprinted towards the end zone. Nobody even came close to touching Jamaal. Charles’s third touchdown came a quarter later when he ran in for a one-yard touchdown.
Charles still had one more screen play left in his system though. Only three minutes later, he took another screen pass from the left and eluded two tackles to get in the end zone. In 24 minutes of play, Charles had four touchdowns already!
Charles had one more receiving touchdown left, but this time, Charles would catch a deep pass. With a linebacker running with him, Charles ran deep right and caught a wheel route through by Alex Smith. Charles would then break two tackles, and run across the field to the endzone. This was truly a special day, and Charles was enjoying it.
I remember each of these touchdowns vividly since Jamaal was on my fantasy team. Each time Jamaal touched the ball, he was truly a threat to get to the endzone. This was by far Jamaal’s most dominant game ever, as he single-handedly carried his team to victory. Fantasy owners of Charles reaped the benefits of his special game, with many winning their fantasy league because of Jamaal.
Charles Against Seattle
I was at this game against the Seahawks. It was frigid that day, with the defending champions coming into town. This Seahawks team was loaded on defense, having The Legion of Boom and an elite pass rush. Nobody scored on this Seahawks defense. Regardless, Charles had a field day against them.
Even though they would stack the box against Charles every play, Charles would tally 20 carries, 158 yards, and two touchdowns in this game. He worked for every single yard, never giving up any snap. He did have a costly fumble in the third quarter, but he rebounded later. On a 2nd and 1, near midfield, Charles broke many tackle attempts by the Seahawks and got the ball all the way down to the four-yard line. I was on that side of the field and saw that entire run happen. I didn’t think Jamaal could quit running. He was Superman.
What made that game, and the entire 2014 season special, was the fact that Kansas City had zero touchdowns from any wide receiver. No team was threatened by anyone we had. Everyone would load their entire defense on Jamaal, but it didn’t matter. Jamaal would find a way to run the ball and carry us to wins.
Unfortunately, his career was short-lived. Jamaal had many lower body injuries, mainly to his ACLs. These injuries would cost Jamaal in 2015, where after that, Kansas City cut Jamaal. That was a very sad day for the Chiefs organization and their fans. Jamaal was the face of the franchise for many years.
Jamaal changed everything for the NFL though. With smaller backs such as Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey budding into possible superstars in the league, they join Jamaal as the point that anyone can play running back. As long as you have the will and heart to get better, anyone can succeed. Charles showed that small running backs could succeed in any role, even running between the tackles. In a league that continues to crave speed, guys like Jamaal will continue to come around.
When those guys do come, I will always remind people that Jamaal Charles was one of the first guys to ever do these things. Even with a smaller frame, there was nothing he couldn’t do. In that way, Charles truly revolutionized the game, and I hope he gets his recognition for decades to come.