Let’s take a look at Chris Johnson and see if his results shed any more light on the concept. Johnson has been widely criticized for lacking effort the last several seasons and for throwing his linemen under the bus. Those are legitimate complaints. Moreover, Johnson is not a particularly adept tackle-breaker, so his game is heavily predicated on vision and initial burst. How has he been doing in those areas?
2012 Running Back Splits
|Run Block Rk||Vision Yds/Att|
Adrian Peterson is usually given credit for having elite agility, but that isn’t ever backed up by the actual results. CJ2K averaged nearly half a yard more before contact than Peterson last season, despite running behind a very average offensive line. Purple Jesus received elite blocking.
It’s reasonable to be skeptical of these results. Running back efficiency numbers tend to be more random than commonly believed. On the other hand, I demonstrated in my article Marshawn Lynch is a strong sell that for certain elite runners these patterns tend to hold on a yearly basis. Moreover, the Vision Yard All-Stars demonstrate the ability to repeatedly generate this type of yardage, often despite running behind abysmal lines.
Getting back to Johnson and Peterson, we see that the pattern also holds when comparing the two of them. Over the last three years, CJ’s blockers have never finished in the Top 15 according to Pro Football Focus. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson’s blockers received grades in the Top 3 twice. During that time period, Johnson has averaged 2.0 VYA and Peterson 1.7. (Still want to burn a top five pick on Peterson?)
A Short Digression (in which we learn CJ2K isn’t that bad after contact either)
Moribund running blocking has taken its toll on Johnson. While it’s commonly believed that yards before contact owe entirely to the line and yards after contact mostly to the runner, the advanced splits don’t necessarily confirm that thesis. CJ2K’s genius reveals itself in explosive runs and often one block is enough – but sometimes that block must occur down field. Even with his desultory 2011 figured in, Johnson was an elite back after contact prior to the 2012 season.
Yards After Contact Per Attempt
These are somewhat surprising results considering how revered Lynch is as a tackle-breaker. Unfortunately for Beast Mode, not all broken tackles are created equal. Backs like Johnson and Charles accumulate significantly more value for every missed tackle forced.
Getting back to Johnson, it’s hard not to think the Titans’ mediocre blocking and excruciating passing game really have served to derail his performance. It’s also worth remembering who holds the NFL’s record for single-season yards from scrimmage.
Two quick takeaways. First, Adrian Peterson’s 2012 season barely makes the Top 10, yet everyone unanimously agrees he’s a shoe-in for the No. 1 pick (well, not everyone). Second, four of these campaigns occurred in a season where the running back was at least 27 years old. Chris Johnson will be 27 during the 2013 season and is younger than AP.
Nobody Was Picking Hugo Reyes Either
The Titans have completely remade their offensive line by using the No. 10 overall pick on Chance Warmack and signing Andy Levitre in free agency. They added explosion to the pass game by trading up for Justin Hunter. His presence merely augments what should be a second year leap for Kendall Wright and the return to form of Kenny Britt.
The RotoViz Similarity Score App doesn’t love Chris Johnson in 2013 and neither do drafters. He’s currently the 18th player off the board in early drafts. As a result, an exploitable inefficiency arises. Unless you truly believe a back who owned Adrian Peterson in yards before contact last year – despite running behind a worse line – and was the equal of Marshawn Lynch in yards after contact for most of the last five seasons is truly done, then Chris Johnson isn’t just a steal in the second round. He’s a complete giveaway.
See why CJ2K’s presence in the second round could be the key to your entire fantasy season in Trent Richardson, Chris Johnson, and Why RB-RB is Back.