Jamaal Charles gaining ground at a rate unseen in NFL history


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.

41 responses to “Jamaal Charles gaining ground at a rate unseen in NFL history

  1. Jamaal Charles is awesome. The fact that he’s able to do this without any kind of passing attack to keep the defense honest makes the record even more impressive.

  2. When a team, any team, gets up on KC by 2 or 3 scores, they go into a soft 2 deep look. The Lions are the only team so pathetic that they can’t take advantage of it… like KC does….congrats for making the best of a bad situation Charles.

  3. It really is amazing that you have a running back having a historic season like this on an offense this bad. It takes an incredible amount of ineptitude at the QB position and coaching staff to waste a player as good as this.

  4. While great, it is too soon to compare him to Jim Brown. You can expect a back to run for more yards per carry earlier in their careers than later.
    Jim Brown played for 9 years, gained 12,312 yards, and had that average. So far, Jamaal Charles has played for 5 years and gained about 1/3 the yardage. In other words, Brown ran a lot more often.
    Even if Jamaal Charles does not run for as many yards, it would be a great record, but it is very conceivable that if he continues to play, he average will go down at some point, leaving Brown as the King.

  5. This record is nice, but lets be honest about one thing. Jim Brown ran through people. He was a back for every down. Goalline, short yardage, you name it. Charles is an explosive back, doesn’t run between the tackles as much, you should expect his average to be slightly higher. And I agree with other comments about longevity. It’s an amazing stat right now, but will be more meaningful if it’s still that high in 5 years time. Congrats to Charles though, keep it up!

  6. Not that remarkable when defenses have been castrated the way they are and given the fact that most defenses don’t stack the box anymore and run nickels. that said, Charles is still pretty good.

  7. Meanwhile in two games against the Raiders this year (one of the worst run defenses, ask Doug Martin) Charles carried the ball 14 times for 14 yards.

    I never understood why they limited his carries so much in those games.

  8. Charles is doing really well. Yards per carry is a nice stat, but it doesn’t say as much about a RB as it could. For example, with 297 carries this year Marshawn Lynch has a 5.0 yards per carry this season. But he only has a career average of 4.2 ypc. Lynch won’t ever get up to Charles’ level in terms of yards per carry, but then again Charles won’t ever get up to Lynch level in terms of yards after contact.

  9. Detroit needs to trade for Jamall Charles….or they should have just drafted him instead of Kevin Smith. Wow. Megatron and Charles. That would be cool.

  10. If he could stay healthy he’d have the total yards gained too. If they had a passing game, he wouldn’t be sitting while the qb was throwing interceptions and giving away the chance to run the ball more.

  11. Charles has the advantage of not being the short yardage back. Lots of carries on 3rd or 4th and 1 will weigh down the average but the greatbacks like Brown, Payton and Peterson always seem to get 1.5 yards per carry in those situations.

  12. I was in Oakland during Charles’ rookie season when the Chiefs came to town. Didn’t really have anything to do, went to the game. Walked up to the box office, bought cheapest seat, sat on the 30 in the lowers…what a joke.

    However, there were 2 highlights: 1) it was the game where Oakland finally gave up on Jamarcus and benched him for Gradkowski. Grad almost brought them back, but hit DHB in the head at the goal line and it was picked.

    2) watching Charles run down the sideline, SO FAST, and scoring from about 40-50 yards. I was like “he’s on my fantasy team next year”.

    I love this guy and am happy for him.

  13. CJ Spiller is having an even more impressive year (about to take all time yards per carry in a season), too bad he had Gailey as his coach this year.

  14. Why are people making excuses for why he’s accomplished what he’s accomplished? Regardless of how/why he did it, just like CJ’s recvg record, no one’s ever done it until now so props to them.

  15. SO…. by AP’s logic Charles should get the MVP…
    or will AP argue Charles is on a losing team and doesn’t deserve it?

  16. One thing no one’s mentioning: it’s much easier to run the football now than in years past, when teams actually gameplanned to stop the run instead of the pass.

    Twenty years ago, averaging 4.5 YPC was big stuff. Now it’s a yawner.

  17. How many teams with great RBs have SB rings?…just sayin. If your teams main offensive weapon is your stud RB, you can about guarantee you are picking high in next years draft…I love AD, Jamaal Charles, CJ, Barry Sandera &Earl Cambell & Sweetness are my all time favorite dootball players.

  18. Another candidate for comeback player of the year. Now the guys with injuries come back stronger than before because they work so hard in rehab and are running just as hard because they believe the doctor when he tells them you are not only healthy but stronger than ever.

  19. My Pop, may he rest in peace, said the best RBs he ever saw play were, in this order, Brown, Mötley, Sanders, Campbell, and Sayers. Who am I to argue?

  20. It took Jim Brown 37 games played to reach 750 carries. It took Jamaal Charles 64 games to reach 750 carries. That’s a huge difference. Jim Brown was the primary back, Charles has had other backs there to help him stay fresh.

    Jim Brown’s record is still more significant than Charles’ having a “higher yards per carry” with a *.

  21. @ justintuckrule


    “…and given the fact that most defenses don’t stack the box anymore and run nickels…”

    Ever watch a Vikings game?

  22. Most underrated back ever Fred Taylor finished a long career with about a 4.97 yards per carry. Pretty damn good.
    Go jags!!!

  23. Just think KC is just a QB, offensive line, defensive line, CB, head coach, and GM away from being a complete powerhouse! Keep up the good work Charles, I am sure help is coming.

  24. For all the people saying “Well Jim Brown was a primary back and an every down back yadda yadda yadda”. I don’t know if you’ve watched football from 40-50 years ago but you could make a pretty convinving argument that the guys Brown was playing against were nearly the athletes that play in the game today. Even the coaching and gameplanning back then wasn’t nearly what it is now. Charles plays on a team with no passing game and has for his entire career and going into every game opposing DCs know that the guy they need to shut down is Charles because he’s the only threat. What Charles is doing now is an amazing feat and he deserves at this point to be mentioned with the best RBs that ever played.

  25. Jim Brown played in a completely different era too. I find it hard to compare then with now. How many 250 lbs linebackers ran a 4.5 40 back then. Athletes are different and it is impossible to say they are facing equal opponents. A team with an elite running back cannot destroy the league as shown by the Vikings as one could back then but QBs were regularly abused making passing less popular or effective depends on how you want to view that lol. Different game. Jim was a beast though.

  26. britishraven says:
    Dec 27, 2012 6:25 PM
    ^There is no reason for anyone to play Nickel against the Chiefs.
    This just isn’t true at all.

    The fact is that the Chiefs have been down big in games this year at a crazy off the hook rate.

    When you’re up on a team large, you go Nickel and Dime.

    Anyway, once his contract is up, he’s gone.

  27. Jamall Charles is a BEAST! All of us Chiefs Fans are thankful to have him on our team. Hopefully we can find a Real Head Coach, General manager and QB this offseason and turn his outstanding play into Wins.

  28. Something about these players from Texas. Both Jamall Charles and Derrick Johnson have played Hard all year, even when we only have two wins.

  29. You’re witnessing greatest here, I love my Chiefs & our history of running backs. Just the past 10 seasons I’ve been able to watch Charles, L. Johnson, Priest Holmes.

  30. I like the people who are discussing a cumulative career record like it’s based only on what’s happened this one season.

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