Is Jamaal Charles Kansas City Chiefs' Best Running Back Ever?

By Kyle Pappas
Jamaal Charles
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s safe to say that Jamaal Charles has exceeded expectations since being drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Selected behind busts such Darren McFadden, Kevin Smith and Felix Jones, Charles had a bit of a chip on his shoulder after sliding over a round lower than his projected draft position.

So what does he do? He goes over the 1,000-yard rushing mark four times in only three and a half years as a starter, while never averaging under 5.0 YPC in any season. Not to mention, he accomplished this as the product of neither particularly good quarterbacking or a capable receiving core. No, Charles’ success has largely been self-made.

In Charles’ six seasons in Kansas City, the Chiefs have placed last in the AFC West on four occasions, compiling a 36-60 over this time. It’s only in 2013, under the tutelage of first-year Kansas City coach Andy Reid, that the team has appeared to put it together during Charles’ tenure. The running back turned in by far his most impressive season as a pro in Reid’s new back-heavy offense, racking up 1,980 total yards alongside 19 TDs.

After leading the Chiefs in both rushing (1,287) and receiving yards (693) on their way to the AFC playoffs, it’s time for Charles to be seriously considered for the title of “Best Chiefs RB Ever”. Charles is only a stone’s throw away right now and with a successful 2014 campaign, he could surpass current Kansas City GOAT Priest Holmes.

Holmes is forever embedded in Chiefs lore after being signed relatively inexpensively in 2001 before proceeding to lead the league in rushing yards that same season. He followed that up by registering 2,287 total yards and 21 TDs the following year, undoubtedly the most impressive season for a running back in Kansas City history.

Holmes currently holds the franchise record in rushing yards (6,017), rushing touchdowns (76) and total touchdowns (83). The Chiefs finished last in the AFC West twice while Holmes was on the squad, compiling a 44-36 record over his five years. Holmes was also blessed with a capable quarterback in Trent Green; prior to 2013, Charles’ best signal-caller had been Matt Cassel.

In spite of this, Charles has averaged a ridiculous 5.6 YPC over the course of his six years in the league. If Charles was to retire today, he would be depart from the league with the second-best all-time YPC for backs with enough carries to qualify for consideration. Holmes finished his career at only 4.6.

Furthermore, barring any injuries, Charles will surpass Holmes’ Kansas City franchise record in career rushing yards with ease in 2014, and it’ll take him around 250 fewer carries. In fact, Charles has never even carried the ball more than 300 times in a single season — Holmes reached this number three times.

Charles is primed to exceed Holmes’ career receiving yardage mark in Kansas City as well, entering the season only 400 yards away. Charles’ 2013 receiving numbers (70 REC, 693 yards, 7 TDs) are strikingly similar to Holmes’ best year as a pass catcher for the Chiefs (74 REC, 690 yards, 0 TDs). If Jamaal sees anywhere near the number of touches that he did in 2013, expect him to pass both Holmes’ rushing and receiving numbers by season’s end.

However, it must be addressed that Charles likely will never approach Holmes’ touchdown totals. Holmes recorded the 14th-most career rushing TDs in NFL history, third-highest single season total (27) and averaged over 20 TDs per season for Kansas City from 2001-03. Charles had never been much of a goal-line threat before surprisingly logging 19 TDs in 2013.

Still, Holmes was afforded the luxury of playing beside Tony Gonzalez in his prime. Gonzalez, arguably the greatest tight end in league history, provided an additional threat for opposing defenses to concern themselves with. His presence generally spread defenses vertically and provided additional wiggle room for Holmes to work with.

The closest thing Charles has had to a Gonzalez has been Dwayne Bowe, who hasn’t exactly been a consistently reliable option over his seven years with Kansas City.

Basically, Holmes is and always will be a Kansas City great. But as Charles builds a legacy of his own, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a passing of the torch will soon be in order. If Charles can again produce top-five RB numbers in 2014, that passing may very well come before the end of this calendar year.

Kyle Pappas covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for Follow him on Twitter @KylePap or add him to your network on Google+.

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