Kansas City, Mo. Jamaal Charles is about as difficult to catch in the locker room as he is in the open field, where he routinely makes defenders look foolish with his swiveling hips and world-class speed.
Track down the star running back of the Kansas City Chiefs and you quickly come to realize why he’s among the best in the NFL.
The pursuit of perfection is what drives him every day.
“I always say I want to be the best running back in the league,” Charles said this week. “I strive to get better. And I’m just happy to have my teammates, my linemen, my coaches to push me.”
There’s a strong argument to be made that Charles is already the best running back in the league. He entered the weekend third in the NFL and tops in the AFC with 1,011 yards rushing, and his 4.6 yards per carry is tied for seventh among those with at least 100 attempts.
Charles even has nine touchdowns rushing, one behind league leader Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, even though coach Andy Reid has a penchant for throwing the ball in the red zone.
“He’s a heck of a running back,” guard Jeff Allen said, “that makes our jobs a lot easier.”
Humble to a fault, Charles would never gripe that his coaches are calling for pass plays at the 1-yard line, as they did last week against Denver. Rather, he points out that the new offensive system run by Reid and coordinator Doug Pederson allows him to use his versatility for the first time in years, including chances to line up at wide receiver.
Charles already has a career-high 55 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, he leads the team in receptions and is third in yardage behind Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery.
“I mean, I was so happy when we got Coach Reid. He puts me in a position where I can show my talent and go out there and help my team win,” Charles said. “That’s what it’s all about, giving the best player the ball when it’s time.”
There are those who believe that’s not always the case — that pass from the 1-yard line against the Broncos last week was picked off. But then again, the knock on Reid earlier in the season was that he was giving Charles too many touches, and that the slight running back might wear down.
After all, this is the same guy who missed most of the season with a torn ACL two years ago.
Still, Charles became only the fifth running back in Chiefs history to eclipse 1,000 carries for his career last week, and his 93-yard afternoon allowed him to become the first player in the history of the storied franchise with four 1,000-yard seasons.
Not only that, his 120 yards from scrimmage against Denver gave him 8,527 for his career, moving him past Abner Haynes and Priest Holmes for third-most in team history.
“I grew up watching Priest Holmes and I played with Larry Johnson, and I know about some of the great running backs to come through here,” Charles said. “So to be mentioned with the great running backs in Chiefs franchise history, that’s big, you know what I’m saying?”
There may be one record that Charles may own that will never be broken. He’s averaged 5.53 yards per carry for his career, the most among any running back with at least 750 attempts, and he would break the record held by Jim Brown (5.22) if his career were to end right now.
The others in the top five: Mercury Morris, Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders. Not bad company.
“I still want to go out there and make history and go out there and set records, and records don’t last long,” Charles said. “Someone will come along and break mine one day as well.”
Pederson said that Charles’ success has opened up the offense the last few weeks, and he may be the biggest reason why Kansas City is starting to push the ball downfield. The Chiefs are heading to Washington on Sunday off their best offensive performance of the season.
“Obviously when you have the ability to run the ball and run it successfully, it’s opened up some of those lanes down the field,” Pederson said. “And then obviously give Jamaal opportunities out of the backfield and in space, empty formations and things like that.”
It doesn’t matter to Charles where he gets the ball, so long as he’s able to help the Chiefs win — something that they haven’t been able to do the last three weeks.
“We’re still 9-3. Y’all make it seem like we’re 3-9,” Charles said with a smile. “We still have four more games. Our goal is to make it to the playoffs and when you get there, it’s anybody’s game.”