When Chris Johnson entered the National Football League, it was an odd time for slim statured running backs like him. It was still the time of the bulky low-level running back, who was expected to take a pounding, carrying the football twenty-five to thirty-five times per game. Johnson was not seen as that type of running back. Rather, he was a sub-4.3 speedster who could catch a ball out in space, cut a corner and burst down the sideline. Johnson was not seen as an in between the tackles running back. He was not seen as a pass-blocker. He was not seen as durable, but injury prone. Eventually, Chris Johnson would prove all these things wrong.
Johnson was a first round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2008. At the time, the backfield was manned by Chris Brown and LenDale White, the latter of which served as the team’s lead back, touching the football a unthinkable 400-plus times in 2007, generating a somewhat meager 1,200-plus all-purpose yard stat-line. Then Johnson arrived, and everything changed.
Johnson wasn’t just a change of pace back like many had thought, but he would serve as the team’s workhorse back between the twenties. The goal-line work went almost exclusively to LenDale White. Indeed, White’s touches were almost halved to slightly better than 200, and his production similarly declined to almost 800 all-purpose yards. But now that he served as the team’s running back inside the twenties, White’s scoring exploded from 7 rushing TDs to 15 rushing TDs! In fantasy football standard-league parlance, White’s production stayed relatively the same even though he seemingly touched the ball less. While one would think that this made Chris Johnson unproductive, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, Chris Johnson thrived in the offense. The Titans offense was built around Johnson and White to the expense of the passing game.
In his rookie season, Johnson touched the ball 294 times, for 1,488 all-purpose yards, and 10 touchdowns! Johnson and White were a dynamic duo, a thunder and lightning one-two punch. Each excelled at one thing, and the Titans let each of them be good at it. Then, in 2009, it all changed again. Johnson became the featured running back in the Titans offense including inside the twenties.
As a result, Chris Johnson’s numbers exploded! In 2009, Johnson produced 2,509 yards of total offense (2,006 of which was rushing yards) and 16 TDs on 408 touches of the football. His 2,509 yards of total offense was a league record. He was a one-man offensive wrecking crew. For those that had him in fantasy football, he could single handedly win you games because of his uncanny ability to burst for a big run seemingly untouched. This garnered him the nick-name “CJ2K,” a play on his abilities and talent to produce more than 2,000 yards in a single season. But, that’s where it ends. Since that infamous season, Chris Johnson’s numbers have steadily declined from 2010 to 2012, or from 2,509 all-purpose yards (16 TDs) in 2009, to 1,609 all-purpose yards (12 TDs) in 2010, to 1,465 all-purpose yards (4 TDs) in 2011, to 1,475 all-purpose yards (6 TDs) in 2012. The fall from grace was hard and fast, so much so that the nickname CJ2K was dropped for the nickname “CJ?K.” Now, no one knew what Johnson’s production might be in a given season since reaching 2,000 yards or more was now uncertain.
Whether Johnson’s fall from grace was his own doing, the changes in the offensive scheme of the Titans, the changes in how teams defended Johnson, or just the reality that Johnson’s best years were behind him, doesn’t really matter. All that matters right now is that the old CJ2k is sorely missed. And, while Johnson hasn’t recaptured his old glory, he’s beginning to turn heads, again.
Compared to seasons past, Johnson has become an in between the tackles running back. Until lately, Johnson’s opportunities to the outside were rare. In the first half of this season, Johnson had 277 rushing yards but zero touchdowns. His role in the passing game was barely existent (4 receptions). In his last four games however, Johnson has poured it on with 239 rushing yards/2 rushing TDs and 175 receiving yards/2 receiving TDs. While most of this production came just last week, Johnson was already breaking tackles and working to the outside. Déjà vu, it seemed, was in full force and effect.
This week, the Titans take on a Jaguars team that is giving up a league high 161.8 rushing yards per game. Add to that some receiving yards and a score, and we should some of that old CJ2K-magic again this weekend. In fact, looking over Chris’ schedule in the stretch run to the end of the season, don’t be surprised if Johnson has a few more games like he did last weekend. In this what-can-you-do-for-me-now-world we live in, nostalgia may be making a comeback. Chris Johnson is this week’s fantasy player of the week.
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Written By: Jim Saranteas – @TheFantasyGreek and @JimSaranteas on Twitter
Founder of the fantasy football advice site TheFantasyGreek.com
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