Chris Johnson VS Jamaal Charles: Do The Chiefs Have The Right Approach?


Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles is playing historically good football. Patrick pointed out how his numbers this season are historic and MVP worthy in his post earlier today. However, I’m not just talking about this season. In his short three year career Charles has put up some incredible numbers. Right now he is averaging 6.0 yards per carry for his entire career. To put that in perspective, that average puts him number one overall in the history of the NFL for running backs for their career.

Bo Jackson’s career YPC average was 5.4.
Jim Brown’s was 5.2.
Barry Sanders’ was 5.0.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, here are two articles detailing just how good Jamaal Charles is. The first is an article by Football Outsiders Bill Barnwell written for ESPN about how Charles is leading the league in their DYAR and DVOA categories for running backs. I won’t try and explain it. You do have to have their insider to read the entire article. The other is by Chase Stuart and was written for the New York Times. It gives details about just how historic Jamaal Charles’ numbers are.

After Charles, the closest active RB on the YPC all time list is the Titan’s Chris Johnson at 5.0.

That means the two current active leaders in YPC will face off at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday. The two backs have a lot in common. Charles is listed at 5-11, 199 lbs. Johnson is listed at 5-11, 191 lbs. They are both about to finish their third season in the NFL. They both are seen as explosive big play backs. The biggest difference in the two is how each of their teams have gone about using them. The question now is how much of a difference has their workload shaped their results.

A closer look at the numbers after the jump.

Chris Johnson has been a focal point in the Titans offense since he was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft. In his three seasons he has already totaled 891 carries and 131 receptions. That’s 1,022 touches in three seasons (with two games left to play this year).

Jamaal Charles on the other hand, sat behind Larry Johnson for a season and a half before becoming a key part of the KC offense. In his three year career he has 460 carries and 106 receptions. That’s 566 touches in three seasons.

So simply put, Jamaal Charles has about half as many touches as Chris Johnson and is averaging a full yard per carry more.

The question then becomes is Jamaal Charles just a better or more explosive back then Chris Johnson or is the amount of workload they have received a factor?

Both Charles and Johnson have played in 45 games. I’ve broken down those games by how many carries they had and put them in 5 categories.

10 or less carries
11-15 carries
16-20 carries
21-25 carries
26 or more carries

Let’s take a look at how many games each back has had in each category and what their YPC was in those games.

10 or less carries
Johnson: 3 games, 3.27 YPC
Charles: 24 games, 5.06 YPC

11-15 carries
Johnson: 6 games, 3.94 YPC
Charles: 8 games, 6.57 YPC

16-20 carries
Johnson: 18 games, 5.83 YPC
Charles: 7 games, 5.25 YPC

21-25 carries
Johnson: 9 games, 5.45 YPC
Charles: 6 games, 7.06 YPC

26 or more carries
Johnson: 9 games, 4.34 YPC
Charles: 0 games, N/A

So what can we take from these numbers?

First, I think its worth noting that both backs have their worst YPC average when they get 10 or less carries. This makes sense to me. One, it takes time to get into a groove, and second, since both backs are “home run” type backs the more carries means a greater chance that they will break a long run that will up their YPC average.

Next, note that 80% of Johnson’s games fall in the three top categories. That is a pretty good sample size. His YPC dips slightly when going from the 16-20 category up to the 21-25. However, it takes a full 1.11 YPC drop when he gets over 25 carries. When you look at those numbers, I don’t think it’s a fluke that Charles has never gone over 25 carries in a game.

Now some of you will see Charles freakish 7.06 YPC average in games where he received 21-25 carries and flip out. You’ll start screaming at the computer about how this proves that the Chiefs are morons for not giving him 20+ carries every game.

Here’s my counter argument for those that feel that way. Those 6 games where he has 21-25 carries only make up 13% of his games played. In 71% of his games played he has had 15 carries or less. That means Charles has pretty much had fresh legs his entire three year career. This has allowed him to stay explosive and rack up those huge numbers when he has received an increase in carries. I think if his workload was similar to Chris Johnson’s his overall numbers would look a lot like his too. I also have a feeling (unfounded probably) that Charles would not hold up injury wise under that kind of workload.

Some of you won’t buy this argument. Things I have heard before include “We don’t know if he could keep up this pace for a full season with a full workload because we’ve never tried it!” and “Even if his YPC did drop a little it would still be better then what Thomas Jones is giving us so the team would be better off.”

I probably can’t and won’t ever be able to change your mind if you are set in your thinking on this topic. So I won’t try.

Here are my final thoughts.

First, the numbers show that there is no reason not to get Jamaal Charles over 10 carries every game. If the Chiefs don’t get him above 10 carries they are not taking advantage of a historically powerful offensive weapon.

Second, I hope that the Chiefs continue to keep his overall carries down throughout his career. I am a firm believer that being “fresh” is a big reason that his numbers look like they do. When I watch Thomas Jones plow into the line for 0 to 4 yards I force myself to remember that Jamaal will have more left in his tank to break an 80 yarder later in the game because of it.

Third, I hope that if the season is on the line they turn him loose. What I mean is if the season comes down to week 17 versus the Raiders and its win or we’re out of the playoffs, I hope they make it one of his rare 21-25 carry games. At that point you aren’t resting him for anything (same thing for a playoff game).

I couldn’t be happier that we signed Jamaal Charles to a new deal. Not only is he putting up numbers unseen in the history of the NFL, but the way the Chiefs are using him will ensure that he continues to put up those numbers for years to come. So sit back and enjoy as Jamaal keeps rewriting the history books this weekend and let’s hope that Chris Johnson is just a little too tired to keep up.

Thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!