Sometimes, star running back Jamaal Charles recently blurted out, he feels like he’s “the LeBron (James) of football, especially at my position, because I can do so much.”
If you didn’t know the spirit of Charles, and the innocent way he might arrive at saying such a thing, this might seem like just another high-profile athlete thumping his chest.
Besides that, though, there’s this:
“If you done it, it ain’t bragging,” as poet Walt Whitman apparently put it before the likes of Will Rogers and Dizzy Dean said it similarly.
(This story is part of The Kansas City Star’s Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
By at least one measure, Charles has “done it” better than anyone in NFL history, with a career rushing average of 5.49 yards on 1,249 carries.
For some context, consider that two through five on that list are Jim Brown (5.22), Mercury Morris (5.14), Gale Sayers (5.0) and Barry Sanders (4.99).
Meanwhile, Charles, the leading rusher in Chiefs history with 6,856 yards, also has 262 career receptions and leads the NFL with 33 touchdowns the last two seasons, with 21 on the ground and 12 through the air.
More to the point now, though, is what’s ahead.
If the Chiefs are to flourish this season — and win their first playoff game in more than two decades — they require Charles to continue to produce with the same uncanny game that comes from being a world-class sprinter who plays with the infinite heart of someone whose only real gift might be generating effort.
“One of the toughest, toughest guys I’ve ever been around,” then-Chiefs guard Mike McGlynn said last season. “Usually, when you get a back of his stature, as fast as he is, you don’t get the toughness.”
Even with the much-heralded acquisition of receiver Jeremy Maclin intended to jumpstart the Chiefs’ offense, Charles remains their ultimate — and most precious — playmaker.
“Jamaal’s the engine that makes this offense run, and he knows it and we all know it,” reserve quarterback Chase Daniel said. “You don’t see that skill-set very often. He really does have it all.”
Or as Maclin put it: “He’s second to none when it comes to being able to do everything … Hopefully, we can open things up for each other.”
What starting quarterback Alex Smith calls a unique versatility for this level goes beyond the fact that Charles both runs with and catches the ball exceptionally well.
Essentially, Charles is a one-man platoon.
“There are just not that many guys who … are so strong across the board in so many facets of the game,” Smith said. “He can run outside the tackles, obviously, with the tremendous speed, but (with) the toughness and the quickness to run in between the tackles. …
“Takes a lot of pride in his run-blocking, takes pride in the situational football: goal-line, short yardages.
“There are just not many guys who can do what he does all the time. Most of the time it’s (a) platoon, and you’re pulling guys in and out, and you’ve got situational backs and things like that. And Jamaal just can do it all and does it all at such a high level, which is a real rarity.”
All of which, though, leads to an asterisk in the equation: the enhanced potential for injury with such use and exposure — and as such an obvious target.
It was an issue the Chiefs were cognizant of as they all but withheld Charles from touching the ball during their preseason games.
Toward the same cause, perhaps they even provided him with some extra help as he departed his dorm at Missouri Western a year after evidently hurting his ankle and missing preseason time last year.
“He was actually carrying a box down the dorms, and he came down the grassy slope there and just tweaked his foot, rolled his foot over on the curb,” coach Andy Reid explained at the time. “It was that simple.”
More seriously, there always is the lurking potential for a season-ending injury — Charles missed the 2011 campaign because of an ACL injury he suffered in the opener. Or worse, the permanent damage of head injuries.
In the last 21 months, Charles was knocked out of a playoff game against Indianapolis because of a concussion, and on national radio he reported having had lights buzzing around his eyes after a collision that concussed San Diego’s Brandon Flowers.
And that’s just what’s known publicly in the recent past about the worrisome matter for Charles, whose admirable fortitude only adds to the complication of handling all this right.
At Buffalo last season, he came out on the Chiefs’ last series after a helmet-to-helmet run-in with defender Brandon Spikes.
That was after suffering a stinger earlier and returning.
“Nothing wrong with my lower body,” he said after the game. “I can fix my upper body; I can’t do much if my lower body is hurt.”
Asked how he balances keeping Charles healthy with keeping him integral to the Chiefs, Reid has said, “You try to spot him when you can spot him, and then give him time off when he needs time off to get himself back healthy and ready for the week.
“He’s not the type that wants to take any time off, and he wants to play every play. So you work within that. We are very fortunate to have him and that attitude that he brings.”
Even amid the constant concern of where would they be without him.
NFL yards-per-carry leaders
Jamaal Charles’ average of 5.5 yards per rushing attempt ranks as the best all-time by a running back with at least 1,000 attempts.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Jim Brown, Browns*
Mercury Morris, Dolphins
Gale Sayers, Bears*
Barry Sanders, Lions*
*Pro Football Hall of Fame members
Most 1,000-yard rushing seasons by a Chief
2 (1989, 1991)
Chiefs’ career rushing leaders