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Player Spotlight: Chris Johnson

A detailed look at Chris Johnson's fantasy prospects for 2013

Setting the Stage

Chris Johnson was a two-sport athlete growing up in Orlando, FL. He was a track star who competed at both the 100 and 200 meter sprints and also played running back. He was not highly recruited, being rated only a two-star by Rivals and chose East Carolina over his other two scholarship offers from Eastern Kentucky and Connecticut.

Johnson had moderate success at East Carolina in his first three years, but was more highly regarded as a returner than a running back. After his junior year, he had totaled 1,559 yards rushing (4.0 ypc) and had 88 receptions for another 868 yards, while he had 80 kick returns for 1,706 yards, averaging 21.3 yards per return. He really improved his production as a senior as he rushed for 1,423 yards (6.0 ypc), caught 37 passes for 528 yards and scored 23 TDs from scrimmage. He also excelled returning kicks with 36 returns for 1,009 yards, averaging 28.0 yards per return.

He was generally regarded as a second or third round selection heading into the 2008 NFL Draft, but moved up draft boards following extremely successful efforts at the NFL Combine. He posted a 4.24 second 40-yard dash, one of the fastest ever and also had a 10’-10” broad jump. He was drafted in the first round, 24th overall by the Tennessee Titans. His original contract was for five years and $12 Million with $7 Million guaranteed. He played very well immediately for the Titans and had arguably one of the all-time best seasons by a running back in 2009 (his second year) when he had 2,509 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 TDs. He initially held out in 2011, but was signed to a four-year contract extension before the season began for $53.5 Million, with $30 Million guaranteed. His production fell off considerably that year and has only marginally improved since.

His five-year career production, all with the Titans is provided in the table below.

Year Gms Rushes Yards ypc TDs Targets Catches Yards ypc TDs
2008 15 251 1,228 4.9 9 62 43 260 6.0 1
2009 16 358 2,006 5.6 14 71 50 503 10.1 2
2010 16 316 1,364 4.3 11 56 44 245 5.6 1
2011 16 262 1,047 4.0 4 79 57 418 7.3 0
2012 16 276 1,243 4.5 6 49 36 226 6.3 0
Totals 79 1,463 6,888 4.7 44 317 230 1,652 7.2 4

Looking Forward to 2013

The Titans invested heavily in their offensive line during the off-season, signing Andy Levitre, a free agent from Buffalo to a six-year $46.8 Million contract that included a $10.5 Million signing bonus. Later the team used their first round (10th overall) pick on Chance Warmack, the All-America lineman from Alabama, who was considered one of the best guard prospects in this year’s draft. These and other additions greatly improved their depth with several quality players, caution is advised that there may be a learning curve as the new players get familiar with each other. Footballguys’ Staff Writer Matt Bitonti is very high on the Titans’ offensive line and rates them highly for both run blocking and pass protection, ranking them 7th best overall in the NFL.

The team will again be led by quarterback Jake Locker who enters his third season, but has only had 11 career starts. They are fairly stocked at wide receiver with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, rookie Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, Damian Williams and Kevin Walter on the current roster and also signed tight end Delanie Walker to a four-year $17.5 Million contract with $8.6 Million guaranteed. Walker might be more valuable to the offensive line than the receiving corps though.

The team also signed free agent Shonn Greene to a three-year $10 Million contract with $4.5 Million guaranteed. He seems to be qualified to supplement Johnson, who has carried the lion’s share of the running back duties for the Titans over the past four seasons, without being an impediment to Johnson’s opportunities. Johnson averaged 81.9% of the team running back rushing attempts from 2009 through 2011 and that percentage increased to 90.2% in 2012. The addition of Greene should allow Johnson brief rest opportunities each game and I expect that to help Johnson be more productive per touch this season.

Positives

  • Nice additions to the offensive line bolster confidence that the Titans can improve offensive production
  • Johnson has historically been the focal point of the offense, so opportunity is there for success
  • The addition of Greene should allow Johnson to stay fresher, enhancing his ability to break off long runs
  • Johnson has a much lower ADP thus far in 2013 (going as RB12 in the middle to late 2nd round

Negatives

  • Offensive line has many new members and might struggle early with continuity
  • Locker needs to improve on 55.5% career completion rate to help the offense maintain drives
  • Greene could take over the goal line opportunities

Projections

  Gms Rushes Yards ypc TDs Catches Yards ypc TDs
David Dodds 16 246 1,077 4.4 7 40 284 7.1 2
Bob Henry 16 245 1,110 4.5 7 40 270 6.8 1
Jason Wood 16 285 1,250 4.4 7 37 260 7.0 1
Maurile Tremblay 16 276 1,201 4.4 8 36 252 7.0 1
Stephen Holloway 16 288 1,382 4.8 8 40 309 7.7 1

Final Thoughts

Chris Johnson has fallen out of favor with fantasy pundits over the past couple of years, probably beginning when he set out a portion of camp in 2011 seeking a contract extension. His fall continued as his rushing average fell to 4.3 ypc over the last three years. Another factor that leads to angst about Johnson is his maddening inconsistency. Last season, he had five games where he had less than thirty yards rushing. All these considerations have lowered his ADP to the point where the decreased cost combined with the potential offensive line improvement lead me to expect that Chris Johnson will be a value selection this season.

Other Viewpoints

Anarchy 99 in the Chris Johnson Spotlight Thread

In terms of fantasy ppg (0 ppr), Johnson ranked 16th in the 2010-2012 timeframe (for backs that played at least 10 games).  I don't see him having a return to major prominence.  Things may have gotten better in terms of the OL, but I am not yet sold on Locker or the passing attack.  Depending on the health of other backs across the league, I see Johnson ending the season in the RB 10-15 range, maybe one or two spots higher if things click better than I think they will. 

Bri in the Chris Johnson Spotlight Thread

He can't run between the tackles without confidence. With confidence he's very good between the tackles. I doubt he ever changes and is probably always going to be inconsistent for FF. He's arguably the fastest or most explosive straight away runner in NFL history. Many times he's more like Devin Hester or Dante Hall years ago wherein if you just don't let him see daylight you're OK, but if you show him a glimmer he's gone.He's not a typical RB at all. He overcame what looked like a career ending slump, made him seem like NFL's version of a one-hit wonder. I think he deserves some credit for that as do the Titans for sticking with him. I, for one, was calling for him to get replaced. He's mature now, took his NFL lumps and overcame; I'm curious about him in 2013. He has been the Titans team or O. Will Moore and a young OC come up with an awesome scheme in their first offseason to plan? If they can make the passing game a concern for defenses, CJ could be in for a huge year. Hunter, Wright, and Britt should be able to open things up; it seems very likely.

Heath Cummings in Back to the Future : Chris Johnson

The sky is the limit for Johnson in 2013, but I like his odds of finishing as a top five back. He doesn't have the huge carry totals that should scare you off long term either. While he's no Barry Sanders, he could absolutely still have 3-4 years of RB1 production ahead of him. In dynasty leagues I would be trying to acquire Johnson from the owner that's scared by his dip over the past two seasons. In redraft leagues, he's being drafted in the middle of the second round, which is a great value.


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