Jamaal Charles and Derrick Johnson had fine careers in Kansas City, but were those careers Hall of Fame-worthy?
Both were in Kansas City last week to retire as Chiefs after signing one-day contracts. That makes it four Texas exes who officially stepped away this offseason. Linebacker Brian Orakpo and defensive end Brian Robison were the others.
We all know what Charles and Johnson meant to Texas football. Charles finished fourth all-time in rushing here with 3,328 yards and did it in only three seasons. He is the arguably the best open-field runner in UT history and was a home run waiting to happen.
Johnson is on the short list of greatest linebackers to don the burnt orange — a list that starts with Tommy Nobis — and was the nation’s top ‘backer in 2004 when he won the Butkus and Nagurski awards. But when it comes to the Hall, the numbers are short of Canton-worthy.
Sacks are the ultimate judge for most linebackers and while the four-time Pro Bowler split time playing on the inside and outside, his 27.5 career sacks just aren’t enough to warrant serious consideration. Orakpo may warrant more because he finished with 60 sacks and also made four Pro Bowls. Robison, the other retiree, also snagged 60 sacks but never played in a Pro Bowl.
Of the four, Charles’ case is the most intriguing because of his sheer big-play ability. When I spoke with him in the elevator at the Erwin Center following Texas’ NIT win over Xavier in March, he was leaning toward retiring. He made it official Wednesday when he took a final ceremonial handoff from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. At 32, he told me he still has some gas left in the tank but was ready for his next phase.
He was all smiles in Kansas City this week, signing a one-day contract as head coach Andy Reid — who once ventured to his hometown of Port Arthur for Jamaal Charles Day — looked on.
“So many people in that building have played a part in my success on the field,” Charles told Chiefswire.com. “I wanted to come back show some love to those people that showed love to me and I think it was only right to do it here.”
He will undoubtedly one day join Len Dawson, Willie Lanier and Derrick Thomas in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, but the bigger question is if he did enough to get to Canton. When healthy, he was as dangerous as any back in the game but he finished with only 7,563 career yards. He played at least 15 games in six of his first seven seasons — he tore his ACL in the second game of 2011 — and was first-team all-pro and a four-time Pro Bowler. Before the 2014 season, he was ranked the eighth best player on the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players show, voted upon by the players.
Then the injuries came. He played only eight games in his last two seasons with the Chiefs before leaving for Denver in 2017.
Before the injuries, his blinding speed was something to behold. His 5.4 yards per carry are the best in league history among running backs with at least 750 carries and he finished with five 1,000-yard seasons. That said, the yardage numbers are far behind others in the modern era like Edgerrin James (12,276), Fred Taylor (11,695), and Ricky Williams (10,009), making inclusion a long shot.
“(James) can’t get in and he has a better résumé than Jamaal,” one Hall of Fame voter told me Friday. “So I can’t see Jamaal ever having a chance. (Taylor) has 4,000 more yards and didn’t even get on the initial list for several years. When I think of Jamaal, I think of hall of very good, not Hall of Fame.”
Charles’ best comparison would be that of Hall of Famer Terrell Davis, who finished with only 44 more rushing yards in a career that was also plagued by injuries. Unlike Charles, Davis played for two Super Bowl winners, capturing the MVP in Super Bowl XXXII and a league MVP in 1998 when he ran for 2,008 yards, one of only seven players in league history to do so.
My colleagues who vote in the Hall always speak of impact when it comes to separating good players from great players. Charles was a terror on the field who kept many a defensive coordinator up late at night. The biggest drawback is his relatively short period of dominance. Charles did it very well. He just didn’t do it long enough.