Star tailback Jamaal Charles from the University of Texas has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2008 NFL Draft. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound junior is coming off easily his best season as a Longhorn, and he should be a coveted commodity. Charles starred in track as well as football in high school, despite making an immediate impact he took a few years to really establish himself as a full-time player in the crowded Texas backfield.
As a freshman, Charles started three of the 13 games in which he appeared. He finished the season with 119 carries for 878 yards (7.4 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns along with 14 receptions for 157 yards (12.1 yard-per-catch average) and two touchdowns. Those totals were good enough for multiple awards, including Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, Freshman All-Big 12 and Second-Team All-Big 12.
In his sophomore season Charles appeared in 12 games but only started one. He still amassed 156 carries for 831 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns. He also added 18 receptions for 183 yards (10.2 yard-per-catch average) and one touchdown. He earned Second-Team All-Big 12 honors for the year.
But this past year was his true breakout season. As a junior he started all 12 of the team's games, and his production went through the roof. Charles finished the year with 258 carries for 1,619 yards (6.3 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns, while snagging 17 passes for 199 yards (11.7 yard-per-catch average). He made First-Team All-big 12 and was a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker Award - given yearly to the nation's best running back.
Speed kills in the NFL, and Charles has an abundance of it. He's a pure slasher with the vision to find creases and the patience to set up his blocks; he has an exceptional burst to the hole. His crisp cuts, as well as lateral explosiveness, make him very elusive in the open field, and he has the true second gear to run past defensive backs once he gets into the secondary. No one was surprised when Charles put up a scorching 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, because he made a living ripping off long runs at Texas. He's a big play waiting to happen, a true burner that has the potential to take it the distance every time he touches the ball.
Charles does have some other dimensions to his game besides speed, though. He won't run anyone over, but his balance and forward body lean sometimes allow him to slip through tackles to gain extra yardage after contact. His receiving numbers weren't overwhelming in a Longhorns offense that doesn't throw to their backs very often, but when given the opportunity he showed decent hands and solid route-running skills. His acceleration, speed and vision give him some potential as a return specialist, although he was not used in that capacity at Texas.
Charles logged only one full season as a starter, leaving him with fresh legs. In that year, he proved capable of handling a full workload at the collegiate level, though expanding to a 16-game schedule coupled with the increased size and speed in the NFL leave some question marks about his ability to hold up. He became stronger as the season progressed, having some of his best games at the end of the year. He also has a history of making impact plays in his team's biggest contests.
Charles is skinny with a high-cut frame. He lacks the leg drive to push the pile in short yardage situations, and he doesn't break a lot of tackles. He doesn't project as the most effective red zone runner and may need to be replaced by a stronger back in those situations (many of his touchdowns at Texas were long runs rather than as part of the goal line offense). He doesn't have the size to wear down defenses and punish tacklers. Charles isn't a particularly tough or powerful runner between the tackles, and he will most likely be at his best running to the edges at the next level. Due to this, he may not be a great fit for certain teams. Some scouts feel that he will need to bulk up a little to withstand the pounding over the course of his NFL career. He had some problems with fumbles in college, and poor ball security isn't tolerated at the next level.
Charles has only one full year of starting experience, although that is often less of a factor at running back than at other positions. He isn't particularly polished in the passing game, and despite giving good effort he will probably always be a liability in pass protection due to his size.
Expected Draft Placement
Most draft experts have Charles rated as the fourth or fifth back on their boards with the second round serving as the most likely spot for him to be chosen. Smaller backs like Washington Redskins halfback Clinton Portis and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker have proven that some undersized speedsters are capable of carrying the load in the NFL, but Charles still may not be a great fit for a power-running team such as the Carolina Panthers. Teams that could potentially be interested in Charles include the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys. If he goes to a team that runs the zone-blocking scheme, such as Green Bay or Denver, Charles could excel.
About Cameron Graszl
Cameron has been with KFFL since 2006.
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