During the past few seasons, Chris Johnson has driven fantasy owners insane.
In 2012, CJ2K rushed for 1,243 yards and six touchdowns, but his ninth-best rushing total belies a maddening inconsistency that forced owners to throw up their hands and either trade or bench him.
Johnson’s 4.5 yards per carry looks good on paper, but hardly tells the whole story. He had touchdown runs of 80, 83 and 94 yards, which makes up over 20% of his season total. Take away those three runs and Johnson rushed for 986 yards on 273 carries or 3.6 yards per carry.
Johnson’s hit or miss mentality has turned him into the Adam Dunn of fantasy football. Either he strikes out or wallops one out of the park. More often than not, he strikes out.
With that said, there’s no reason to expect a regression in Johnson’s numbers next season. While Johnson isn’t the same player who rushed for over 2,000 yards four seasons ago, CJ should see a significant statistical boost behind an improved offensive core.
Following last season, many speculated that the Titans would cut Johnson rather than pay the $10 million salary owed to him in 2013. However, Tennessee’s hand was forced by a lack of weapons with which to surround third-year quarterback Jake Locker.
Instead, the Titans revamped an offensive line which finished 21st in run production last season. Tennessee signed former Bills guard Andy Levitre to a lucrative 6-year, $48.6 million deal. The Titans also selected Alabama guard Chance Warmack, who NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock called the best prospect in this year’s class, with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft.
As insurance for Johnson, Tennessee signed former Jets running back Shonn Greene to assist in short-yardage situations. Concern about Greene taking red zone carries away from Johnson is misguided. Just one of Johnson’s six touchdowns last season came from inside the 10-yard line where Greene is likely to get the majority of the carries.
Sure, it’s a given that Greene will eat into Johnson’s touches and CJ clearly isn’t too happy about a potential two-back system. On the bright side, Greene will be able to spell CJ which should lead to fresher legs for Johnson throughout the game. If anything CJ’s decreased workload should aid his productivity on a per carry basis. Shonn Greene gives the Titans a much-needed short-yardage back that can pick up the tough yards and allow Johnson to focus on gaining large chunks.
Don’t forget Titans head coach Mike Munchack is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who will be determined to have his O-line playing at its peak. The Titans could have one of the NFL’s premier offensive lines if things break right in Nashville.
In other words, Chris Johnson could be in for a monster 2013 campaign that reaffirms him as an RB1 and a must-start in all fantasy leagues.
Much of Johnson’s success hinges on his decisiveness when hitting the hole. Time and again last season, Johnson failed to attack gaps in the defense resulting in dozens of plays that went for little or no gain. Instead of stuttering to the line, CJ must show marked improvement in his decisiveness.
Despite his big play ability, Johnson needs to learn to settle for smaller gains that’ll lead to first downs and move the offense forward. Not every run is designed to go to the house.
Defenses will continue to to key on Chris Johnson while it’s still up in the air whether Jake Locker is a franchise quarterback. Yet with the improvements to the offensive line and the addition of Shonn Greene, it’s put up or shut up time for Johnson in Tennessee.
Don’t expect CJ to be quiet.