Jamaal Charles was a transcendent talent at running back. But his production and lack of longevity hurt him as a candidate for the Hall of Fame.
In my heart of hearts, Jamaal Charles is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Maybe not on his first ballot, but he’s a Hall of Famer nonetheless.
I have fond memories of Charles galloping like a gazelle across the gridiron as defenders helplessly flailed at open space where he was and then wasn’t. He was an incredible athlete that made other incredible athletes look mediocre on a regular basis.
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Unfortunately, I don’t think my own personal opinion and memories of Charles will be enough to land him in Canton—at least any time in the near future. The measuring stick for the Hall of Fame is somewhat flexible, which gives him a chance. He was an incredible athlete for most of his career, but there are a couple reasons why the voters will likely opt for someone else in his place.
Production & Longevity
Looking back, when he played for the Chiefs, I feel like I never remember a season where Charles wasn’t absolutely prolific. I can recall play after play where he carved up the defense, almost effortlessly. As a fan, even in the down years, he was fun to watch.
In truth though, his dominance was very short-lived. This was mostly due to injury, but only five out of his 11 years were dominant. Now, most running backs never achieve what Charles did in those five years.
During the five seasons he was fully healthy from 2009-2014, excluding 2011 due to injury, Charles ran for 6,416 yards. That’s nearly 1,300 yards per year. If he had maintained this level for a few more years, we might be having a different discussion.
Unfortunately that’s not the case for Charles. This isn’t a discussion of whether Charles was a great player, because he obviously was, but whether he should be heralded as one of the best running backs of all time. With a little more luck, I think he could easily have been.
But his rushing stats of 7,563 and 44 touchdowns put him at 56th all time. There’s only 32 modern era running backs in the Hall of Fame. This doesn’t seal the deal, but it makes his case tougher.
Playoff Wins & Championships
Personally, I don’t think it’s all about regular season, playoff, or Super Bowl wins. Every player plays under unique circumstances, whether that’s their team, coach, or conference. Simply put, no two teams and coaches are equal.
Charles played for some of the worst Chiefs’ teams ever. He endured two 2-14 seasons during a six-year span. In the second of those campaigns, he lit up the NFL with 1,509 rushing yards at 5.3 yards per carry. He had an incredible season.
The problem is, to make it into Canton, you typically have to have some element of team success—whether that’s performing at a consistently high level on a consistently great team or being a primary factor on a deep playoff run. The Hall of Fame is generally reserved for great players that made their team great, even for a short period of time.
As much as I love Charles, I’m not sure he leaps this hurdle. He was an individually great player who couldn’t seem to carry his team. The Chiefs were absolutely terrible, so there’s an argument to be made that it didn’t have anything to do with his personal play. I’d even take that argument. But I’m not sure the decision-makers for the Hall of Fame will see it that way. I think this will ultimately leave Charles on the outside, looking in.
If it were up to me, Charles would be a Hall of Famer. I have so many great memories of watching him play, particularly because he was the only player on the team worth watching for quite some time. Injuries and team aside, Jamaal Charles was arguably the most physically gifted running back of the last generation.
But it’s not up to me. Unfortunately, I don’t see the decision makers for the Hall looking as favorably upon his playing career as I do.