Punch Drunk Wonderland

The Chris Johnson Running Back Conundrum

Chris-Johnson-01Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is going to be released by the the team today. This is probably good for him, but it’s certainly surprising how much of a perception/reality conundrum he represents. He’s had plenty of critics, but his numbers don’t necessarily warrant the abuse he’s seen. That 2,000 yard season and the “CJ2K” rhetoric seems to have really created an expectation that does him no favors. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

Seasons 6
Games 95
Rush Attempts 1,742
Rush Yds 7,965
Rush TD 50
Rec 272
Rec Yds 2,003
Rec TD 8

Johnson has some really impressive stats. In 6 NFL seasons he’s only missed one game (he was rested rather than injured in that game) and he’s averaging 1,327 rushing yards per season. Sure, that’s skewed by the 2,006 yard season in 2009. However, he’s never had less than 1,047 yards in a single season. That average over 6 seasons is better than every running back currently playing in the NFL that isn’t named Adrian Peterson. On top of the rushing consistency, he’s been good for 40+ receptions each year. You would think any team would be happy with this production. So, why the criticism?

The numbers tell one story and that story says that he is a top NFL running back that has been durable and consistent. The touchdowns are low though he is still averaging nearly 10 per season. What is the problem, then? My best guess is situational running and the fact that he’s struggled in the redzone. In 2013 he only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and struggled to score. He doesn’t get the yards when they are sorely needed. Couple that with the fact that the bar has been set high in terms of expectations after the 2,000 yard season and you can start to arrive at why Johnson sees so much criticism. Of course, the fault may not lie solely with Johnson when it comes to those situations in which he’s struggled. Offensive line and scheme issues could come into play as well. But, the backs always get the blame. It is a “skill position” after all.

At the end of the day, he’s had a very good career and at age 28 he should be able to produce for whichever team picks him up. He isn’t likely to reach 2,000 yards again, but that’s a rare feat anyway. The nature of the running game in today’s NFL also means he’ll likely be joining a committee or at the very least won’t see anymore seasons with 270+ carries that he’s seen in the past. There are only 28 players in NFL history to reach 10,000 yards rushing in their career, and Johnson certainly seems to be on pace for it. If I were a GM, I would be more than happy to give him a try.

Fantasy Focus:  Despite the perception that Johnson has been a disappointment, he was still the #8 fantasy running back in terms of fantasy points in 2013. Breaking down the game-by-game fantasy production, he was fairly boom/bust as he only had 7 games with 10+ fantasy points (he had two 20+ point games). His fantasy value for 2014 will depend on the situation he enters with a new team. Obviously, his value will be hurt if he winds up in a committee or if he is given a situational back kind of role. I’ll revisit his value once he lands with a new team.


K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...