The Chiefs are completing a miserable season that may cost everyone in the front office and coaching staff their jobs, but there’s one very valuable asset that whoever takes over the Chiefs next season will inherit: A running back who has blown away the NFL’s all-time record for yards per carry.
When Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles logged his 750th career carry on Sunday, he earned a spot in the NFL record book that had been owned by Jim Brown for half a century. That’s the spot atop the list of running backs with the highest career average yards per carry: In the official NFL record book, a running back needs 750 career carries to qualify for the yards-per-carry record, and Brown’s career average of 5.22 yards per carry has been the gold standard since he retired in 1965.
But now Charles, with 770 carries for 4,483 yards in his career, has surpassed Brown by a huge margin: Charles’ average of 5.82 yards per carry is something professional football has never seen before from a running back.
Brown’s record has technically been broken, but only by a couple of quarterbacks: First Randall Cunningham retired with an average of 6.36 yards per carry, and then Michael Vick, whose current career average is 7.03 yards per carry, topped Cunningham. But if we look only at running backs, Charles is the best ever in yards per carry average by a huge margin.
In fact, Charles tops all other running backs in NFL history even if we expand the list a bit to include running backs who didn’t have 750 career carries. Pro Football Hall of Famer Marion Motley, for instance, averaged 5.70 yards a carry in his career, an even better mark than Brown. Motley was always cited by the great Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman as the best football player he ever saw, but Motley got most of his carries playing for the Browns when they were part of the All-America Football Conference in the 1940s, and the NFL doesn’t count stats from the AAFC toward its official records, so Motley has never been considered the record holder. Some football historians considered Motley the true yards-per-carry record holder even though the NFL record book gave the nod to Brown, but Charles has now surpassed even Motley’s mark.
Bo Jackson also had a better career yards per carry average than Brown, but Jackson’s career was cut short after just 515 carries. Jackson’s average was an incredible 5.40 yards per carry — incredible, but not as good as Charles’ career average.
A running back who averages five yards a carry for his career is doing something extraordinary. Five yards a carry is better than Walter Payton averaged, better than O.J. Simpson averaged, better than Eric Dickerson averaged, better than Emmitt Smith averaged. A 5.0 average is what Barry Sanders and Gale Sayers had in their careers, and it’s currently Adrian Peterson’s career average as well. Going above 5.0 is the most rarefied air a running back can reach. For Charles to close out his fifth NFL season while carrying a 5.8-yard career average is remarkable.