There were two elite running backs recovering from major knee surgeries last season. One was the Adrian Peterson; the Madden 25 cover man requires no introduction. You might need a refresh course on the other one. Jamaal Charles' game is real unfamiliar to most fans that haven’t had an opportunity to watch the previously futile Kansas City Chiefs play in a few years, but if Peterson is an armored Hum-vee bowling through contact, Charles is a souped-up Bugatti turning the corner on would-be tacklers.
Charles didn’t hold Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing yardage record hostage over the second half of last season, but 1,509 yards a year after tearing his ACL is nothing to sneeze at. Especially when defenses weren’t forced to respect the Chiefs’ passing attack.
As a result, his regular season numbers get overlooked and Charles’ name rarely earns honorable mention in a conversation discussing the league’s top running backs. Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, Christian Okoye and Marcus Allen’s names are littered throughout the Chiefs’ record books. Charles stacks up with the crème de la crème in NFL history.
One number matters when you refer to Charles. His 5.8 career average yards per carry is higher than Barry Sanders, Peterson, Jim Brown or any other running back’s in league history.
Charles’s top-flight speed, quick recognition of running lanes and acceleration ability allows him to hit the hole cleanly. Defenders usually don’t catch up to Charles when he breaks out. The engine of Kansas City’s offense is a former University of Texas sprinter who can go from 0-60 in a few yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson was the only running back to finish last season with more runs, gaining 15 more yards than Charles.
Unfortunately, his YACs (yards after catch) haven’t been as high as his YPC, but it’s not for a lack of ability. In Andy Reid’s first season as the Chiefs’ head coach, Charles will become Kansas City’s LeSean McCoy on passing downs. When Alex Smith is looking for a checkdown receiver, Charles will be targeted as regularly as McCoy was in Reid’s West Coast scheme.
“This offense might be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Charles told Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star in June. “They’re going to throw me the ball more. I think I’ll continue to stack Pro Bowls on Pro Bowls if I can stay healthy.
“I definitely know my role. I’ve got a lot of stuff to program in my mind right now. There’s a lot of stuff in the Andy Reid offense, the same stuff he did with Westbrook and McCoy, and I think I fit his scheme as well as they did. I go in there and try to read the defense. I feel like this year it will be more than I catch out of the backfield.”
Almost two years have now passed since Charles tore his ACL. Frighteningly enough, his knee should be even stronger this season. It doesn’t hurt to have help in the trenches on the way, in the form of No. 1 overall pick, Eric Fisher.
Charles’s name usually doesn’t come to mind when discussing the top-five NFL tailbacks, but the best running back you’ve never seen will be on the tip of every football fan’s tongue in a blur if he keeps leaving defenses in his rear view mirror.