In 2009, Chris Johnson of the Titans had a 2000 yard season and looked very impressive in doing so with a PFF run rating of +15.9. While Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs trailed Johnson in touchdowns, yards and attempts, he finished with a higher PFF run rating, +16.5.
In 2010, Thomas Jones came to town to split carries with Charles and, despite going from playing 80% of the offensive snaps to 53%, Charles put up the best rushing season we’ve seen with a +23.5 run rating.
To give some idea of how great Charles season was, only four running backs in the history of the NFL have had a season with over 200 carries and over 6 yards per. Those players are Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Barry Sanders, and Jamaal Charles. That’s good company for a young player like Charles to be in.
Some might not consider him the best back in the game because the Chiefs limit his carries, but let’s take a look at just how amazing this rusher is.
Breaking Down His Runs
It’s one thing to look at Charles’ yards per carry and realize he’s good, but it’s another to see exactly what that means. A strong yards per carry total can be built of a collection of consistently good runs or a handful of big runs mixed with a few bad ones, but being constantly good and producing big runs is best and that’s what Charles offers.
He got positive yardage on 89% of his runs; nearly half of them going for at least 5 yards and 20% were scampers of 10 or more yards. The NFL has evolved to be more of a passing league, but with this kind of consistency, the Chiefs are showing how you can still run to win.
Here is a breakdown of Charles’ 239 runs this season and playoffs:
Jamaal Charles, Yards per Carry Breakdown
Number of Carries
Percent of Carries
What Sets Him Apart
Looking at the top five running backs in terms of PFF run rating including the playoffs, there are four players you would suspect surrounding one surprise. As stated before, Charles led the list, with Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Arian Foster ending up second, fourth and fifth respectively. The surprise on the list is Buccaneers undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount who had the third highest rating.
The lowest rated rusher in the league was Charles’ teammate Thomas Jones who had a positive rating on just 27% of his runs. Most of the great runners have positive ratings between 35-40% of plays. What sets both Charles and Adrian Peterson apart is they have positive ratings on over 45% of their plays, over five percent more than the other players.
Distinguishing Charles from Peterson were the outstanding runs. Charles made big plays (graded +1.0 or better) on 6% of his carries compared to Peterson who did it on 4%. To answer the question of why Blount had the third highest rating: he led the elite rushers with a big play on over 9% of his carries – an astounding rate.
Here are some details on these top five rushers:
Running Backs, Percentage of Positive Plays
Big Plays (+1.0 or better)
Big Play %
A Game to Remember
Only twice this season was there was a running back with a single game run rating above +5.0, and Charles earned one of them in his Week 12 effort against the Seahawks. His base statistics were 22 carries for 173 yards and a touchdown.
His eight yards per carry in that game were a remarkable accomplishment. He had at least three yards on 20 of his 22 carries, and seven or more yards on half of them. What helped him was a positive run block rating from all five of his linemen, his fullback Mike Cox, and tight end Tony Moeaki.
Over the past decade, Chiefs fans have enjoyed great runs by Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, and now Jamaal Charles. The team overworked Johnson with 752 carries in the 2005 and 2006 seasons combined, which likely led to Johnson’s early decline and Charles overly-cautious handling.
It’s fun to imagine Charles taking the year he had and adding another 100 carries to it. Records would have fallen if he was able to continue his production over the course of a full workload, but regardless I believe there was no one better in 2010.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke