Jamaal Charles was one of the great casualties of 2011. Now he's back, in good health, and with a chance to shatter one of legend Jim Brown's seemingly unbreakable records.
Charles can leap past Brown and stake a claim as the most explosive ballcarrier in NFL history.
Charles was the NFL's second-leading rusher in 2010, with 1,467 yards -- a total achieved with just 230 carries. That's a spectacular 6.38 yards per attempt. He looked to be in the same game-breaking form in early 2011, ripping off 83 yards on just 12 carries (6.92 YPA) before the injury.
Charles has averaged 6.07 YPA in his brief career, a number that is absolutely shocking by the standards of anything that's come before. Now a healthy Charles has a chance in 2012 to make an "official" claim that he's more explosive than Brown, Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers or any of the legends of the game.
The NFL requires a minimum of 750 attempts to quality for official rushing records. Charles has toted the ball just 499 times. But a 251-attempt season is certainly realistic by the standards of healthy, elite running backs.
Here's how Charles stacks up right now vs. the most explosive qualifying running backs in history, based upon average per attempt:
Clearly, Brown did it over the long haul and there's little reason to doubt he's still the greatest ballcarrier of all time. But Charles is so far ahead of the field in terms of average per attempts that it's hard to envision a scenario -- other than career-ending injury -- in which he does not go into the record books as the most explosive running back in history.
Charles needs to produce just 888 yards on 251 carries (3.54 YPA) this year to end the season ahead of Brown.
Here's a look at the seven most explosive individual seasons in history, based upon average per attempt (min. 190 attempts). Brown and Charles own five of the top seven spots.
Charles' effort is just one of the assaults on the record books that the
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton passed for 4,051 yards last year, the most by a rookie. He needs to pass for just 3,824 yards to surpass the standard set by Peyton Manning (7,874 yards) for most in a player's first two seasons. Dan Marino is a distant second (7,294).
Manning, now with the Broncos, has produced 35 fourth-quarter comebacks, tied with Broncos Hall of Famer-turned-team-exec John Elway for second most in history. With one more clutch comeback, Manning will tie Marino for
The chase for title of Comeback King poses a statistical conundrum for the Broncos organization, which has
Manning also needs just 21 TD passes to tie Marino for No. 2 (420) on the career list. Brett Favre is still far off in the distance (508).
Tom Brady is second only to Manning among active quarterbacks in fourth-quarter comebacks, with 25. However,
Brady and the loaded Patriots offense, meanwhile, scored 513 points last year, topping the 500-point plateau for the third time in history (2007, 2010, 2011). Only 10 other franchises have topped 500 points even once, and only two have done it more than once: New Orleans (2009, 2011) and St. Louis (1999-2001).
New England's star-studded attack has a very good shot this year to become the first franchise with four 500-point seasons.
Prolific retread wide receivers Randy Moss (154 TDs -- 153 receiving, 1 punt return), now with San Francisco, and Terrell Owens (156 -- 153 receiving, 3 rushing), now with Seattle, are within shouting distance of LaDainian Tomlinson (162) for No. 3 on the career touchdown list. The top spots are held by Jerry Rice (208) and Emmitt Smith (175).
They're also tied for No. 2 on the career TD reception list (153). One of them will likely stand alone behind Rice (197) by the end of the year.
Four of the five most efficient quarterbacks in history, based upon career passer rating, will be active in 2012, with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (104.1) far ahead of the field.
New Orleans' Drew Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 43 consecutive games, just four games shy of the standard set by Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas from 1956 to 1960. He threw 14 TD passes in the last three games of 2011 alone, adding seven more in two postseason contests.
Brees also produced the most accurate passing season in history last year (71.23 percent), breaking his own 2009 record (70.62). With similar production in 2012, he'll leap past Chad Pennington (66.05) to claim the most accurate career in NFL history. Brees has completed 65.94 percent of his career attempts.
Baltimore Ravens star Ed Reed led the NFL in interceptions in 2004, 2008 and 2010. If he can match that feat in 2012, he'll become the first defender to top the league in picks four times. Reed has produced 1,463 interception return yards, just 20 shy of the record held by Hall of Fame defensive back Rod Woodson.
Yes, we live in the Golden Age of Special Teams, and punting in particular. The top five punters in history, based upon career average, were all active in 2011: Shane Lechler (47.58), Andy Lee (45.74), Brandon Fields (45.69), Donnie Jones (45.34) and Mat McBriar (45.28).
Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester can add to almost every return record in history this year. He's No. 1 all time in average per punt return (12.88), career punt return TDs (12) and total return (kick, punt) touchdowns (17), well ahead of No. 2 Brian Mitchell (13).
Hester returned two punts and one kick for touchdowns last year.
The 2011 season was a historic one for quarterbacks -- and an ignominious one for pass defenses across the league. Four teams must overcome historically inept pass defenses to raise their game in 2012.
The Packers and Patriots were the top seeds in each conference last year, despite getting gashed through the air all season. The 2011 Patriots surrendered 4,703 net passing yards, second only to the 2011 Packers (4,796) for worst in history.
Finally, Carolina must find a pass defense worthy of Cam Newton's talents on offense. The 2011 Panthers went just 6-10 because they surrendered 7.58 net passing yards per attempt, one of the 10 worst pass defenses of the Super Bowl Era.