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Does Jamaal Charles really have a case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

An article on the Talk of Fame web site questions Charles’ case for induction to the Hall.

Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

On Sunday, we told you about an interview former Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles gave to TMZ — one in which he pointed out that some of his career statistics exceed those of other running backs who are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

As we told you on Sunday, Charles was speaking the truth. His career rushing yards per attempt are indeed second only to Marion Motley and exceed those posted by Jim Brown, Joe Perry, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis. All of those running backs are already in the Hall of Fame.

Our article caught the attention of the Talk of Fame web site hosted by FootballMaven, and on Thursday, TOF contributor Clark Judge published a response to Charles’ TMZ interview that concluded with this thought:

Jamaal Charles had an illustrious career, but so did dozens of other running backs who aren’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So don’t tell me he’s getting in when they have not. Because the line forms at the rear. And that line goes around the block.

While acknowledging the points Charles made in his TMZ interview, Judge made the argument that yards per attempt are not the be-all and end-all of a running back’s career. Judge said that Hall of Fame voters would have other things to consider.

— Where he ranks among the all-time rushing leaders. Charles is 56th.

— Where he ranks in career rushing touchdowns. He’s tied at 97th.

— Where he ranks in all-time scrimmage yards. He’s 102nd.

— First-team All-Pro selections. Charles had two.

— Durability and length of career. He had six seasons where he played 15 or more games and none where he started all 16. Moreover, he had seven seasons where he started five or fewer games, including none in his last four years.

— Playoff performance. He participated in only two playoff games (both losses) and gained a total of 100 yards rushing while scoring once.

Whether or not you agree that these are criteria that should be considered is (for a moment) beside the point. These are, in fact, precisely the kinds of things the Hall of Fame selection committee will consider when (and if) Jamaal Charles’ case comes up for consideration.

How do I know? Because Clark Judge is a Hall of Fame voter, and I’m not.

So we shouldn’t start this discussion by asking, “What does he know, anyway?” He does know.

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

But that said, I also think it’s fair to question some of the statistical criteria Judge says the Hall uses to evaluate a running back’s career. In my own view, they are generally too dependent on counting stats — statistics that simply count up the raw numbers of yards, touchdowns and so on. These kind of stats certainly have a story to tell — but in general, they lack context.

Suppose, for example, that running backs A and B play for two different teams. Running back A plays for a team that runs the ball on 50% of its snaps, and B’s team runs the ball on 40%. If A has more rushing yards than B at the end of the season, do we know that A was better than B by simply looking at their rushing yards? No... we don’t. But one of the ways we could find the context in which they performed would be to compare their yards per attempt — one of the statistics where Jamaal Charles always excelled.

Raw touchdown numbers have the same problem; team tendencies can also skew them..

I can’t disagree, though, that longevity — which by its nature is also a counting stat — should be one of the things Hall voters should consider. Durability should also be part of the equation. And these are both areas where Charles doesn’t compare favorably with other running backs of his era.

I’m a bit on the fence about postseason success being part of what is considered. It should be a factor, but it does sometimes appear that players make the Hall largely because they played for teams that won championships, while others who have had the misfortune to excel on bad teams must do that much more to get a Hall nod.

All of that said, we shouldn’t expect that tendencies of Hall of Fame voters will change any time soon; we’re a long way from Hall of Fame bios that quote PFF grades or DVOA numbers. Change will come only gradually — which is perfectly acceptable for a body that decides who should be considered the greatest of all time.

While Jamaal Charles does (and should) have a large spot reserved in the hearts of Chiefs fans, it’s fair to say that when his career finally concludes, he might not have as strong a case for the Hall of Fame as we might want or imagine.

Charles may ultimately have to settle for being one of the greatest Chiefs of all time. That’s not the same as being in the Hall of Fame, but it is certainly saying something.

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