Simon Bruty/SI/The MMQB
Simon Bruty/SI/The MMQB

Crash Landing for New Jet

After two weeks on the market, ex-Titan Chris Johnson has a new team: the Jets. What can New York expect from the running back with six straight 1,000-yard seasons? Definitely not the superstar CJ2K had been in Tennessee

By
Andy Benoit
· More from Andy·

After getting released by the Titans and then sitting on the open market for two weeks, Chris Johnson finally found a new team. In New York he’ll likely be taking handoffs from fellow offseason pickup Michael Vick, forming football’s most terrifying backfield if this were 2010.

With the steady Bilal Powell and the explosive Chris Ivory also on the depth chart, Johnson should expect no more than 12-15 touches a week. That might seem like a fall from grace for a 28-year-old who has topped 1,000 yards rushing in all six seasons since being drafted with the 24th overall pick in 2008. But Johnson has been tilting away from superstar status for awhile.

Did you know it was almost five years ago that Johnson had his 2,000-yard campaign? Since adding a “CJ2K” tattoo, Johnson has averaged 73.9 yards per game (1,183 per season). Those aren’t numbers of a pedestrian player, but they aren’t numbers of an electrifying feature back, either. Nine other running backs have averaged more yards a game since ’09 (minimum 40 starts).

So why the drop in Johnson’s production?

Some have speculated that work ethic is an issue. In 2011, midway through a five-year rookie deal worth $12 million, Johnson made good on a two-year-old threat of holding out in demand of a raise. After missing all of training camp and the first three preseason games, he got the Titans to capitulate with a four-year, $53 million contract, with an astounding $30 million guaranteed. Then Johnson went out and had his worst season, rushing for a meager 1,047 yards. He bounced back a bit in 2012 before resubmitting paltry numbers in 2013.

Who knows if Johnson rested on his laurels after becoming filthy rich. Game film does not show drive, only performance. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be speculation. Longtime beat writer Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean wrote that while Johnson is by all accounts a “good guy,” his “laid-back approach” rubbed some in the Titans organization the wrong way. Johnson also hasn’t earned himself much sympathy with his public gripes. (Recall him slapping the faces of his offensive linemen by tweeting “Thank God” right after guard Chance Warmack was drafted.) He seems to have a gift for pointing fingers.

Maybe there are other reasons Johnson has tailed off. He officially touched the ball 408 times in 2009 and another 360 times in 2010. That’s a lot of mileage for a slender 195-pounder.

Johnson has never rushed for less than 1,047 yards in a season.(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Johnson has never rushed for less than 1,047 yards in a season.(Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Or, what if Johnson was never actually as good as his 2009 numbers suggest? The rest of his career numbers would verify this. In 2009, Johnson had touchdown runs of 91, 89, 85, 57 and 52 yards. That’s great, those big plays count. But they also tend to be aberrational stat-inflators. This isn’t to say Johnson didn’t earn his 2,000 yards; take out his four longest runs and he would have still won the rushing title. But from a broader vantage point, running backs rarely hit monstrous home runs with year-to-year consistency.

Johnson has posted just eight 40-yard runs since leading the NFL with seven in 2009. Last season he had zero such runs. His breakaway jets didn’t fire and he showed little ability to make defenders miss. That’s a major problem in today’s NFL.

Johnson still has good speed—and it can maybe once again be great speed now that his legs will get more rest. But he no longer has world-class speed, and the difference between “world class” and “great” is gargantuan for a player who lacks other attributes to fall back. Most running backs in their late-20s see their wheels lose tread. The great ones come to rely more on their vision, power and sense for setting up angles and blocks.

Johnson has never thrived in these areas. Take his speed rating down from, say, a “98” to an “85” and you have a rudimentary back who gains only the yards that are blocked—and sometimes not even that given his propensity to abandon play designs to chase home runs.

A back like this is easy to find, which explains why Johnson went unsigned for so long. If you’re a GM, why bring in a 28-year-old Johnson when, for virtually the same price (and probably less), you can draft a 22-year-old who won’t wear down over the next few years and might even blossom into a star? The young guy is also easier to mold, which is important with a complementary player.

The Jets, of course, have a different view. Signing Johnson is a low-risk move for GM John Idzik and, more importantly, head coach Rex Ryan. Like other one-trick ponies, Johnson could excel in a limited role depending on how those around him perform. And if the experiment goes up in flames, nothing else on the team will conflagrate because we’re then talking about a low-level backup. Johnson might not be the Jets’ next version of LaDainian Tomlinson. But at least he won’t be Mike Goodson.

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28 comments
rma1015601
rma1015601

He's over the hill.  Another Jet gimmick destined to fail.  What is wrong with the Jet's owner and why does Rex Ryan still have a job?  Ryan is all mouth and has nothing to say, especially about winning games. 

jdunnmsm
jdunnmsm

Love the Titans.  CJ plays around before he hits the hole, goes down on any contact, can't make anyone miss.  Frustrating to watch him the last 3 years.  

AnthonyPatterrson
AnthonyPatterrson

This dude is using Madden references and wants to be taken seriously? " Take his speed rating down..." wtf?

Buck2185
Buck2185

Just another large waste of money and time for the Jet's. NE can't help winning their division every year with organizations like New York in their division....

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

Chris Johnson only had 1 superstar year and even that year, the one he rushed for over 2,000 yards wasn't the best season ever.


Johnson averaged 5.6 yards a carry that season.  That SAME season, Jamal Charles of the Chiefs averaged 5.9 yards a carry but didn't rush as many times that season as Johnson did.


The EVERY next season, Johnson's yard per carry dropped to 4.3 yards a rush, a full 1.3 yards LESS per carry.


Jamal Charles rush per carry went UP from 5.9 yards to 6.4 yards per carry, which was OVER 2 yards per carry more than Johnson.


Johnson had one very GOOD year, great even but that was it.  To be a superstar, an athlete needs to sustain that level for more than ONE season...


A superstar back does it for several seasons.  A good back may have one outstanding season but then reverts back.


Chris Johnson's career isn't much different than Jamal Lewis' career and he ran for over 2,000 that one season.  But Lewis wasn't ever a superstar and I don't think Chris Johnson was ever a superstar, just a good back who had one great season...




dbum
dbum

the attribute of his game that might be most valuable to the jets is his pass catching. surprisingly, andy did not mention that. he usually does some really solid in depth analysis. 


hes been a consistently upper echelon receiver out of the backfield and this should help open up an offense seriously devoid of play makers.


bottom line though, chris johnsons problem is that he has a huge ego that no longer matches his production. if he continues to blame his offensive line or others for his inability to produce, then he will not be worth it.


AllThingsConsidered
AllThingsConsidered

New scenery, newfound motivation, new context...If for whatever reason CJ gets nowhere near his production in his early Titans year, what is already a pretty good signing will turn into the steal of the century.

jimmyjon_55555
jimmyjon_55555

Great signing.  remember what they had last year- Ivory and Powell?  cmon...  now they picked up a guy who has breakaway speed- and can mix with ivory for a perfect one-two combo...  they aren't expecting CJ to carry the ball 25xs+ per game all year.. he may have a few of those games but thats def not the expectation.  so for the money- 2 years - $8MM- its a fantastic pickup.    

RobertJohnson
RobertJohnson

The Jets will get a world class whiner who gives a 40% effort. As much as the Heisman bust Tebow wasn't a good NFL player, he gave an honest 100% effort.  CJ is a WOM - waste of money! 

JohnnyNacho
JohnnyNacho

The Jets offense needed a playmaker and that's what they got w/ CJ.  Maybe limiting his touches early in the season will keep him fresh for the home stretch of the season where he might be able to do damage.  Regardless, it looks like the Jets just might get back to the style of play that Rex knows best...ground and pound w/ heavy blitz on D.

rskins09
rskins09

 Too much $ too fast ...Never fails ..As soon as a prime time back signs a big contract he (in a lot of cases ), they play not to get hurt ..Same thing with WR's ..Their work ethic, drive falls off the cliff ...Happens every year with some NFL team ...They know if they're  cut they never have to work a day  the rest of their life and don't care...I'm not picking on the Titans ..Remember Chris Johnson's  rookie year -- he was awesome ...  

ukjets
ukjets

The more Andy Benoit articles I read, the more he comes across like a snakebit embittered Jets fan, rather than the Jet hater many suspect.

Nonfantasylandman
Nonfantasylandman

Pretty sure contact was made by the defense at a horrible average of -1.3 yards, not sure beast mode could fight through that

J-man
J-man

This article has a gaping hole in the middle: The rest of the Titans offense. How can you not take into account the massive dropoff in talent at every offensive line position, WR and QB. There is a big difference between having Kevin Mawae captaining your line with Kerry Collins/Vince Young at QB and what the Titans had last season. Jake Locker blows, and then got injured. Their offensive line was a bunch of turnstiles. I know you guys don't like him for whatever reason, but you cant just put all of the blame for his less than stellar numbers on him. There are so many factors that contribute to rushing numbers that its slightly irresponsible to not take into account anything other than his own play and nebulous things like "attitude" and "will"

Limpnoodle47
Limpnoodle47

Holy Crap ain't that the truth. of course he has his moments where all of us hold our breath.I can guarantee you that He is definitely not worth the money and it does not outweigh the bad.

Limpnoodle47
Limpnoodle47

CJ a playmaker? What are you smoking good sir? He attempts to be a playmaker but has failed consistently. Being able to gain 20 yards once a blue moon doesn't qualify him as such. How about the majority of the time when he gets stuffed. Literally 80% of his runs. He is a mediocre back that happens to have a good knack for catching the ball. Other than that sir, I wouldn't expect much at ALL from him with the jets. Facts are facts. Period.

Limpnoodle47
Limpnoodle47

He is going to suck bud. Period. He got his glory year and that's that. You will see.

AnthonyPatterrson
AnthonyPatterrson

@J-man  Very telling that at no point in the article is there an even passing reference to the rest of the Titans team. Its just basically, "I'll post various numbers, and provide very little to no context, and draw a defining conclusion".

speaksnow
speaksnow

If running backs could be great difference makers on their own then we'll see 4-6 go in the first round. OL, QB, a good offensive scheme are all important for a running back to be successful. I didn't watch the Titans much last year, but of what I did there didn't seem to be much of that. Spot on J-man

Bongo
Bongo

@J-man :  I'm not a Titans fan, but I agree with you.  All these articles we read about the declining importance of the RB position along with the declining performance of various older players seem to fail to take into account that a RB is only as good as his offensive line (unless he's Barry Sanders).  CJ is only 28.  Are we really at the point where backs are getting used up THAT quickly in the NFL? 

Limpnoodle47
Limpnoodle47

You sound just like CJ. Blame his failure on everything else. Man up.

DanaBunner
DanaBunner

@Bongo @J-manHe'll turn 29 early into this season.  He's had 250+ carries over the past 6 seasons, plus many pass receptions.  Yes, several good NFL running backs have been used up by this point.  A few have been productive into their 30s, but not all that many. The fact that he doesn't break many (or any) long runs anymore is a serious concern.  He had 279 carries in 2013 and his longest run was just 30 yards.   In his last 22 starts, he's had three 100+ yard games.  Lots of warning signs!

JoshMcKay
JoshMcKay

Because a cliche like that helps quantify something like speed . . .

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