By Brian Spencer
Thomas Jones just can’t get any respect.
One season removed from his fifth consecutive season with at least 1,110 yards rushing, the 11-year vet has found himself in the unfortunate, totally-not-his-fault position of being the roadblock that’s holding the dynamo that is Jamaal Charles back. When the Kansas City Chiefs signed Jones in the offseason to a two-year, $5 million deal, most of us thought it was both a vote of no-confidence by KC brass in Charles’ ability to be “the guy”, as well as a foolish bet on a fading horse with a lot of miles on his hooves. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it 10 more times: the dropoff for over-the-hill running backs can be a precipitous one, and Jones seemed like he was heading for a LaDainian Tomlinson-like fall.
Well, LT has been borderline brilliant during the first half of his bounceback season for the New York Jets, Charles has proven he’s quite capable when given the opportunity, and Jones, well, he’s been solid, not spectacular, but I’m guessing solid and effective is better than most people figured he’d be. Together with Charles, Jones has helped elevate the Chiefs’ rushing attack to the top of the NFL at 179.6 yards per at the season’s halfway point. He’s ran for 570 yards (4.2 YPC), scored 3 TDs, and has not turned the ball over. That puts him on pace for his sixth-straight season with at least 1,100 rushing yards; folks, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
I know: Charles needs more touches. I don’t disagree. I’ve already watched more bits and pieces of Chiefs games this season than I probably have the last few seasons combined, and it feels like every time I look up Charles is sprinting between the tackles for 25 yards, taking it around the end for 34 yards, and generally threatening to take it all the way every time he gets his hand on the ball. His 719 yards rushing are good for sixth-most in the NFL, and of the 17 running backs with at least 500 yards rushing, he has the least amount of carries with 113; only two backs in this group, Tomlinson and LeSean McCoy, have less than 130 carries.
Forget about Charles though…
Still, it’s not Jones’ fault that Charles isn’t getting as much burn as he could and probably should be: the guy’s not just going to step aside with a polite curtsy and defer to the youngster. Time and time again, it seems like Jones is the fall guy, the obstacle, the unwanted producer in the backfield who’s to blame for holding somebody or another back. In Chicago, it was Cedric Benson who was given every opportunity to unseat Jones, but failed. Last year in New York, it was Shonn Greene who, until the playoffs, couldn’t usurp a significant amount of carries away from Jones. Now, it’s Charles, though in this case it seems more like coaching strategy, game planning, and depth than anything else.
Drafted seventh overall all the way back in 2000 by the Arizona Cardinals, Jones’ career got off to an inauspicious start. He failed to break 511 rushing yards in any of his three seasons in the desert, then moved on to Tampa Bay for a season. He had the look of career journeyman. Another bust in a long line of first-round running back busts.
Then something happened: a guy who I believe came into the league with a reputation for speed began running harder, stopped going east and west, hit the holes, and became somewhat of a bruiser. At 5-10 and 212 pounds, he’s certainly never been a “power back” in the mold of, say, Brandon Jacobs, but for the sake of the Chicago Bears and Jets, thank God he’s not Jacobs. In three seasons with the Bears, Jones rushed for nearly 3,500 yards and 22 TDs, and in the same amount of time with the Jets totaled 3,800 rushing yards and 31 TDs.
If he stays healthy, in a few weeks Jones will eclipse the 10,000 rushing yards and 70 career TDs marks. Only 24 other RBs in NFL history have exceeded that number, and by the time he calls it a day he could easily find himself in the top-18. That’s remarkable for a guy who’s mostly flown under the radar during his 11 NFL seasons, and to me, he’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.
There’s nothing wrong with clamoring for more Jamaal Charles; I want to see it too, but Thomas Jones has earned his carries this season. He deserves every single one of them.