There are a lot of fun stories coming out of the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs this year — one of the best among them being that Jamaal Charles is (very) quietly building a legitimate case for MVP.
No matter what Charles does, the path to the award goes through Peyton Manning. Quarterbacks have an inherent advantage in football, and Manning’s the best of the best. But arguably no team has relied on any player, quarterback or not, as significantly as the Chiefs have relied on Charles this year.
The oft-overlooked Charles has been his team’s best offensive player over the past five years, whether it be as a hyper-efficient secondary threat under Todd Haley’s pass-heavy offenses or a grinder for Andy Reid’s cautious 2013-14 team. Being the best did not mean much in the past, when the number of wins the Chiefs had could often be counted on one hand. But this year, being the leader of the 7-0 Chiefs — while playing with an inexperienced offensive line and an average passing game — is the high point of Charles’s career.
What has been best about Charles has not just been his ability to move the ball downfield, either, although that has resulted in a team-high of eight touchdowns — or 33 percent of the Chiefs’ total points so far — and 898 yards through seven games, which pro-rated is more than 2,000 yards.
The other important feature Charles has brought to the table is enabling the Chiefs to become a true “game management” team, meaning it is almost virtually guaranteed to win a game if it has a lead at any point in the second half.
Part of this stems from his natural effectiveness as a running back, but it also comes from his ability to tough it out and run the ball more often than anyone else through fatigue and injury, keeping opposing offenses off the field and unable to attempt a comeback.
Charles has the third-most rushing attempts in the NFL (135), most touches overall (171) and has helped Kansas City close out one-touchdown game after one-touchdown game, including a nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles and a stellar performance against the Dallas Cowboys.
As a result of Charles’s game-killing abilities, an already-scary defense is well-rested when it gets on the field. This is a leading reason is why the Chiefs have conceded just 2.43 points per game in the fourth quarter — a historically awesome rate.
There are a lot of reasons why Charles should not win MVP. He is not the best running back in the league, especially when you take into account his 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, and there are other candidates: Manning, for example, or even teammates on the defensive side of the ball. Through seven weeks, his numbers are not quite as good as those of Adrian Peterson’s last year.
But it’s at least something to consider: the best player on the league’s best team should be talked about in the MVP race, and Charles is definitely the Chiefs’ best player. All that remains to be seen is if the Chiefs turn out to be the best league.