>Tuesday Lunch: The Most Underrated Running Back in the NFL

Posted: December 28, 2010 in nfl
Tags: , , , , ,

>By Will Robinson

With only one week left in the season, the playoff picture is almost completely cleared up –all but three playoff spots have been clinched and plenty of drama still exists in the last week of the regular season. This season, as I have previously stated, has been one of the more bizarre in recent years for many reasons. One of the primary themes of this year has been teams’ running backs.
Many teams have shifted away from having a feature back and have relied only on the running back by committee method. Of the top five rushers in the league, only two (Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner) are on pace to average 20 carries per game. Teams have shifted to this methodology for various reasons, including a team having two quality backs or trying to keep a primary back fresh throughout the year and the season.

Another theme that has arisen with running backs is the rise of lowly or even undrafted players. Arian Foster was undrafted last season and leads the league in rushing; Peyton Hillis was a seventh round pick in 2008; and the jumpin’, punchin’ LeGarrette Blount was undrafted in the most recent draft. The player that has broken in to elite back status despite the personal preference of his head coach is a 2008 third round pick: Jamaal Charles
The Kansas City Chiefs boast one of the league’s strongest rushing games this season, averaging a league best 167.5 yards per game, led by the electric Charles and veteran Thomas Jones. Jones had a very good season with the Jets last year, but has a lot of mileage on his legs being in his 11th season; yet somehow, head coach Todd Haley believes in utilizing Jones as much as possible. Jones has received 19 more carries than Charles (235-216) has but Charles has accumulated more touches (259-248). Despite the less work on the ground, Charles has tremendously outgained Jones 1380 to 879. Thus, Charles is averaging a historically great 6.39 yards per carry. The highest before Charles’ current number? Jim Brown averaged 6.4 yards per carry in 1963, but no one over 200 rushing attempts in a single season has averaged higher than that mark. Jones has scored two more touchdowns on the ground, six to four, but Charles has a higher amount of total touchdowns in the year with seven. Charles is averaging 7.08 yards per touch, which is better than any other running back in the league with 200 touches or greater.
Even when the Chiefs cut Larry Johnson last year, Charles had to share time with Kolby Smith under Haley’s watch until Charles proved himself. He was on pace to shatter Adrian Peterson’s record for rushing yards in a game until Haley pulled him in the middle of a rout against Denver. If Charles were to sustain his 6.39 yards per carry over a 300-carry season, he would accumulate 1917 yards, more than Adrian Peterson has gotten in one season and about 90 yards less than Chris Johnson had last year on 58 fewer touches. Charles easily passes the eye test, and is extremely fun to watch on a screen play or on a pitch where the blocking manages to get out front and secure the edge. Just like Johnson, anytime there is space, watching Charles accelerate through it is a thing of beauty in the game today.

It would be hard to call Charles the best running back in the league, but he is definitely in the conversation. A larger body of work needs to be observed in order to make a better-informed decision, but Charles has to be among the top five in the league: I would go as far as to call him the most underrated running back in the NFL. Last year he was called a poor man’s Chris Johnson in his brief season of starting; however, that tag now is unfair due to how well Charles has played this season. If the Chiefs want to have success next month, they need to use their best weapons more, and that definitely means more Jamaal Charles.

  1. Scott says:

    >Teams have gone away from the feature running back and toward the RB by committee because the human body cannot endure such powerful hits. The strength and speed in the NFL is rediculous. The Jaguars rode on MJD's back for too long and he inevitably got injured. I think the conservative amount of touches is more indicative of their careful use of a young 24 year old running back. You are right, there is no doubt Charles will be a stud so they treat him as any major league team treats a young talented pitcher.

  2. >Your point is the base for the points I brought up – very true. I mean, it's only Chris Johnson's third year, and the Titans had various other problems, but I'm afraid the fabled "Curse of 370 Carries (http://sports.espn.go.com/fantasy/football/ffl/story?page=nfldk2k10curseof370)" may catch up to him. CJ2K is still young, and I hope he has a lot of miles still left on him. He still had a great season, but had his lowest YPC in his career (granted, only three years).It's probably better that they are keeping him safe, but Thomas Jones' relative ineffectiveness should be enough to convince Haley to drift away from a straight up 50-50 split for the carries. Thanks for the comment.-Will

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