Injuries are the worst. There really is no other way of putting it. The worst. It doesn’t matter how talented or skilled an athlete is, anyone is susceptible to getting hurt. Injuries ruin the true nature of competition — having each team play at their highest level. But even worse, they ruin careers.
Jamaal Charles is unfortunately not the exception.
Tragedy struck first when Charles tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2011 NFL Season, in Detroit’s 48-3 obliteration of Kansas City. Afterward, he was able to fully recover and dominate the next 3 seasons. But unfortunately, during the Chiefs’ Week 5 game of the 2015 NFL Season, he tore his right ACL. in a 18-17 loss to the Chicago Bears. This completely shocked the league.
Despite his recovery from the initial injury, the latter was different. Jamaal Charles never played the same after the second ACL tear. It was extremely unfortunate — and it could make one wonder what truly could have happened if Charles was healthy throughout his whole career…
To fully understand the level at which Jamaal Charles competed, one must look at his whole career. But for the sake of what’s happening here, we’ll look at a thinned timeline.
2008: Charles was selected as the 73rd overall pick of the 2008 Draft, so being a third-rounder, no one was expecting him to do too much in his rookie season. He came to the Chiefs as their No. 3 running back, behind Larry Johnson and Kolby Smith. Because Johnson was out, he managed to rush for 106 yards on 18 carries in Week 9. In Week 12, Jamaal Charles had a 36-yard touchdown reception and in Week 16 he had 102 receiving yards. Towards the end of the season, it was becoming more and more apparent: with an average of 5.3 yards a carry, Jamaal Charles was becoming KC’s guy.
2009: Charles was limited in the first six games of the season — behind Larry Johnson, but after Week 6 was promoted to the first-string spot. Johnson was released in Week 9, which helped Charles get much-needed playing time. At the end of this season, Jamaal Charles averaged 5.9 yards a carry, and recorded eight total touchdowns (which was a significant difference than his rookie season in which he only had one).
2010: Jamaal Charles’ continued progressing in his talent and established himself as an even-better running back than most people had initially predicted he would become. By the end of the season, Charles had averaged 6.4 yards a carry and once again had scored eight total touchdowns. After this season, fellow NFL players had voted him as 33rd in the ranking of the top 100 players coming into 2011.
2011: This was the season, where Charles tore his left ACL, so he could only play in two games — in which he did not certainly disappoint. In his two games, Jamaal Charles averaged 6.9 yards a carry and scored one receiving touchdown.
2012: This season took a little bit of adjustment for Charles. He played in all 16 games — averaging 5.3 yards a carry and scoring six total touchdowns. Jamaal Charles was ranked 20th of the top 100 players going into 2013 by his fellow NFL peers.
2013: In 2013, Charles went off for an incredible season. At the end of it all, he had averaged 5.0 yards a carry and had scored a total of 19 touchdowns. After this season, Jamaal Charles earned his third Pro Bowl appearance (2010, 2012, 2013) and was ranked 8th on the NFL’s top 100 list of players going into 2014.
2014: Jamaal Charles demonstrated his incredible running back ability again — averaging 5.0 yards a carry for 14 total touchdowns. This season earned him a spot in his third consecutive (fourth overall) Pro Bowl, and the 12th spot on the NFL’s top 100 ranking for the following season, 2015.
2015: Charles’ right ACL tear in Week 5 ruined this season and arguably his career. Despite only playing in five games, he still averaged 5.1 yards a carry and had 5 total touchdowns. Jamaal Charles was still ranked 75th in the top 100 ranking for the 2016 season, even though he had only played in five games.
2016: Jamaal Charles was very limited in this season. Returning in Week 5, Charles only played in three games. Before Week 8, Charles required surgery to trim his meniscus and was placed on the Chiefs’ injured reserve list in November. Then in February, Charles was released from the team. In all of his time playing, he only averaged 3.3 yards a carry and had scored only one touchdown.
2017: Charles signed a one-year contract with the Denver Broncos, and like his rookie year, served as the No. 3 running back (this time behind C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker). In this season, Jamaal Charles played in 14 games and averaged 4.3 yards a carry for one total touchdown.
2018: In October of 2018, Charles signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars — only playing in 2 games. He had 6 total attempts for 7 yards — averaging an unfortunate 1.2 yards a carry.
2019: In May of 2019, Jamaal Charles signed a one-day contract to retire with the Chiefs.
What a roller coaster of a career!
As seen above, the progression of Charles’ career was ruined by his injuries. But in his prime, Jamaal Charles had not only established himself as one of the best running backs, but one of the best players in the NFL. He was incredibly tough to stop defensively and brought a finesse to the Chiefs — even back when they were a losing team.
In my opinion, in the alternate reality in which Charles was never injured, he have remained as one of the league’s top running backs up to today. Keep in mind, he’s only 33. He retired when he was 32. That isn’t heard of from a four-time NFL Pro-Bowler! Who knows? Perhaps him and Kareem Hunt could have helped elevate the Chiefs to a Super Bowl — even when Alex Smith was still on the team! Despite his injuries and his worse last three seasons, Jamaal Charles still remains the NFL’s all-time leader in yards a carry per 1000 carries with 5.38 yards a carry. Had he played until now at the incredible level he was competing at in 2012-2014, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been a hall-of-famer.
Jamal Charles’ football career will forever be remembered as one of a dynamic and dominant nature, that could have been so much more if it hadn’t been plagued with injuries.