The Problem With Jamaal Charles

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There’s a problem with Jamaal Charles. No, this is not breaking news. Not like we experienced yesterday afternoon with the news of CB Brandon Flowers being released, and lord knows we don’t need more news like that to wrangle our senses. Yet, this is more important than the news of yesterday. The problem with Jamaal Charles can’t be stated in one short sweet sentence but, I’ll give it a try… here goes: Jamaal Charles is too good.

What? I know you’re thinking he’s lost his marbles but not really.

Can you answer this question clearly: would the Chiefs have scored 44 points in the game against the Indianapolis Colts  in January if JC had not been hurt early in that contest?

The question may sound as if I’m saying, “No, the Chiefs would not have scored that many points?” And you’d be right. That is what I’m saying.

So, now you think what I’m saying about his absence in the playoff game, runs counter to my first statement… that he’s too good.

Not at all.

The Chiefs have stated many times… as well as several of the players… that the coaching staff knows what each player is good at and they place them in situations to succeed. I would agree for the most part but, the reality is that Jamaal Charles is like candy. The more you get a taste… the more you want.

However, ask any parent… more candy is not the answer to the long term health concerns for your child.

It sounds like I’m saying that Jamaal Charles is being “mis-used.”

That’s exactly what I’m saying. Another way to say it is, mis-placed importance.

Take a look at Jamaal Charles history of touches (both running and passing added together):

Year/# of Touches

2008- 94 (rookie season)

2009- 230 (year Larry Johnson went down)

2010- 275 (1st year under Haley)

2011- 17 (hurt and out for the year)

2012- 320

2013- 329 (teams leading receiver)

Remember our good ol’ buddy ol’ pal, Larry Diaperhead Johnson? He had 369 touches in 2005 and then an almost unheard of 457 touches in 2006. After which he never had much of an impact.

If we were talking about the amount of tread left on the tires of your car you’d understand right? In other words, Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Doug Pederson need to be planning how they are going to reduce Charles carries and touches… not by a ton… but by a significant amount, or we could be looking at Jamaal Charles last season of Pro Bowl quality production in the year 2014.

L.J. only got 162 touches in his first two years because of a guy named Priest Homes. In 2001, 2002 and 2003 Holmes combined touches were, 389, 383, and 394. Once again, after that, he was never the same running back and his career quickly came to an end.

Jamaal Charles is like any other great athlete… he wants the ball in his hands and he wants his team to lean on him. And his teammates feel the same way about him. They want him to do it.  And so do the fans. However, there is a breaking point.

I believe JC can make it to the NFL Hall of Fame… if he can stick around long enough to be considered. He’s that good.

From the time JC came into the league he’s consistently been among the best ever in yards per rushing attempt. In fact, as of this moment, there has never been anyone better.

1 NFL yards per Carry leaders Chart

In the modern era, Jamaal Charles has the greatest average per rushing attempt among all players who are not quarterbacks. Over the past five seasons, many a pundit has considered Adrian Peterson of the Vikings the best runningback in the business. The chart above would indicate otherwise.

Jamaal Charles simply is terrific and wouldn’t you like to see Mr. Terrific running (and catching) out of the Chiefs backfield for 5+ more years? I would.

So, what’s the answer to the question: would the Chiefs have scored 44 points in the game against the Indianapolis Colts in January if JC was not hurt early in the contest?

The point of posing that question is not about getting an answer that reflects poorly on Charles but one that points out that perhaps Andy Reid’s approach to the offense shouldn’t necessarily place JC at the focal point of the offense.

I know the playoff game is painful for many fans to think about. However, I’ve gone back several times now and watched footage of the game and I then went from “Un-oh” when JC went down, to “Geez, wow, amazing” as I watched Alex Smith spread the ball around… including the long bomb everyone had been waiting for to Donnie Avery. But, it was more than that. The shovel pass to FB Anthony Sherman at the goal line… the fading touch pass to Knile Davis for a TD as he threw off his back foot and his ability to continually gain one first down after another with his legs…. was all tremendously inspiring. In other words, I want the ball in Alex Smith’s hands more.

And I believe that will make Jamaal Charles more effective when he does touch the ball… whether that be as a runner, a back catching the ball out of the backfield or even occasionally lining up wide like a wide receiver.

Is it crazy suggesting that the Chiefs even think about altering the way they use Jamaal as the centerpiece of their offense. I don’t think so. That evolution is already taking place. In part, ironically, because Charles was out during the Colts game which allowed RB Knile Davis to show us he’s more than capable of giving Charles a blow.

What I’m suggesting is that the Chiefs take the San Antonio Spurs approach. The Spurs are essentially the same team they were a year ago when they lost the NBA Championship to the Miami Heat but… they are not the same team. Why? Because their coach employed a “30 minutes’ per game” limit on playing time for his big three: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (all who should end up in the NBA Hall of Fame). Consequently, when the playoffs came around, he could play them as long as he liked because their legs were fresh.

Fresh legs. What do you think fresh legs in the playoffs is worth?

This is football, not basketball, and I’m concerned that Jamaal Charles will even have any legs at all by then. That’s literally what “over-using” a RB can do to them in the NFL… take their legs away.

To further the plan I believe the Chiefs are executing… to give Charles more of a break… is the drafting of a player who will make everyone forget who Dexter McCluster ever was: De’Anthony Thomas.

Jamaal Charles has elite speed and when he came out of the University of Texas he was known as a track man just like De’Anthony Thomas. Here’s a breakdown of Charles and Thomas track times.

100 Meters

10.23, JC

10.31, DAT

200 Meters

20.62, JC

21.01

Thomas is 5-9 and goes 176 lbs but if I recall, the aforementioned Priest Holmes was 5-9 too (only he weighed about 30 pounds more). Thomas is so good at catching the ball I once wrote a piece called, “Did The Kansas City Chiefs Draft A Wide Receiver Without Anyone Knowiing It?” There’s also a way that Thomas is very much like Priest Holmes… he follows, and waits for, his blockers.

Another way this evolution is taking place is simply that Alex Smith is getting more familiar with all of his “other” receivers. Not just JC.

I know there are fans who think Alex Smith is only an average QB at best. However, I believe the way things are going, those same fans will have to cover their eyes for several more years until Alex Smith retires.

Why? Because I think the release of CB Brandon Flowers on Friday was all about being able to pay and keep Alex Smith. Something’s gotta give somewhere financially. Flowers was the cap-space-scape-goat.

Yes, there were questions about whether or not Flowers fit the scheme and defensive approach Reid and Sutton were taking but make no mistake, this was a money move. A dollars deal.

Which brings us full circle to the question as to, why? The answer? To pay Alex Smith. And why do they want to pay Alex Smith? So he can run their offense.

WHO… will run their offense? Alex Smith.

Not Jamaal Charles.

The Chiefs could end up paying Alex Smith in excess of 10 Million per year for 4 to 6 years.

Do you know how much Jamaal Charles is going to make in 2014? Charles “Cap Number” for this coming season is $5,233,333. Even with Brandon Flowers hitting the bricks, there’s more than five other Chiefs, including the CB most likely to be cited for drunken driving, Sean Smith, who are scheduled to make more than JC.

One of the reasons I can support the idea that the QB will be the nucleus of the team and that he should be the engineer… is that the QB can be protected. The nature of the running back position is that they are continually part of a physical assault (you know, the Martyball method) because virtually every play they are a part of, ends with them hitting, or getting hit (unless they score). 99.9% of the QB’s out there, resist hitting and anytime they are hit it’s considered a breakdown in the whole offense scheme.

That brings up the question of longevity in the NFL, position by position. Take a look at several numbers as a point of reference. First of all, you should know that the most recent research shows that the average career length of an NFL player is 3.5 years.

Further, BusinessInsider.com indicates,

The average career length for a player who makes a club’s opening-day roster (active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve) in his rookie season is 6.0 years.

The average career length for a player with at least three pension-credited seasons* is 7.1 years (*a player receives a pension credit for each season in which he spends at least three games on an active/inactive roster and/or injured reserve).

The average career length for a first-round draft pick is 9.3 years.

The average career length for a player who is selected for or plays in at least one Pro Bowl is 11.7 years.

Now to the nitty-gritty. The following is provided by The Bleacher Report,

Quarterbacks

“The average starting quarterback plays about two seasons more than the average player at any other position.”

Runningbacks

“Running backs, in many ways, are the opposite of quarterbacks. They have much shorter careers… [there is a] slow, steady climb of tailbacks who qualify from ages 21 through 25, then the quick, straight drop-off from the high of 27 down to 34.”

Jamaal Charles will be 28 by the end of this year. Larry Johnson was 27 the year he had 457 touches. Holmes played spectacularly up until he hit 30.

It’s part of the genius of Andy Reid to serve as a QB whisperer: one who develops players who can play the most important position on the field, the quarterback position. You could also say it’s the most difficult position to play in all of sports… because of the mental, split second decision making aspects required. Just think, there’s not even 30 of those human beings on the planet who can do it very well. I’d say there’s not even 15 very “good ones” at any given time. However, I do believe Alex Smith is one of those “good ones.”

As far as Jamaal Charles goes, I hope the Chiefs are solving the question of how to properly utilize him… while simultaneously solving the question of his longevity. Otherwise, the future identity of the Kansas City Chiefs is about to change dramatically… sooner rather than later.

Long live the Chiefs!

What say you Addict fans? Do you support the evolution? What would J.C. say?

1 The Problem With Jamaal Charles

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