Chris Johnson has been in the news a lot lately, first for making an appearance at the Titans' voluntary offseason workouts, then for announcing that he still thinks he's the best running back in the NFL, and now for showing that he has indeed been working out.
Now he's added almost 10 lbs of muscle to his frame, and I can't help but wonder how that will affect his play in 2012.
Johnson is known for one thing—speed. The reason the Titans took him in the first round back in 2008 was because he ran a 4.24-second 40-yard dash at the combine, one of the fastest times in combine history.
In 2009, he showed what that kind damage that speed like that can do when he rushed for over 2,000 yards. If a defense let him get in the open field, a touchdown was almost a sure thing. He was considered on par with Adrian Peterson as the best running back in the NFL.
Fast-forward to the 2011 season: the Titans finished 31st in rushing in the NFL, and Johnson appeared to be a shadow of his former self, barely getting above 1,000 yards and going without a touchdown until Week 5.
That's the Johnson in everyone's mind right now, but this offseason he seems to be committed to erasing that image. He's earning praise from coaches and working out hard. That hard work shows with the weight he's put on.
So, with Johnson weighing almost 10 lbs more than he did last season, how will that affect his style of play? Not as much as you might think.
Will he be as fast as he was in 2009 with that added weight? No, but a hard truth that everyone is going to have to come to terms with is that he was never going to play like that again anyway. Speed like that just does not last at the running back position.
So in reality, Johnson wasn't going to be able to make use of his speed the way he did in 2009 even if he didn't gain weight. But that isn't the only reason I think Johnson will look more familiar in 2012 than it seems: that reason is Johnson in 2010.
In 2010, Johnson rushed for 1,364 yards. That isn't much compared to 2,000, but it isn't bad either, especially considering that defenses stacked eight in the box against him regularly. The statistic that people aren't as familiar with in 2010 is broken tackles.
In 2010, only Arian Foster broke more tackles than Johnson at the running back position. For the sake of comparison, Johnson broke 41 tackles, while Peterson, the guy most call the best in the NFL, only broke 35.
That's the thing that people forget about Johnson; he isn't just a one-dimensional speed back, he's a running back that doesn't go down easily. With 10 lbs more muscle on his frame, that's the Johnson we're going to see in 2012.
So in the 2012 season, even though Johnson will still be doing the kind of cutting and weaving we've gotten used to seeing from him, expect to see a lot more straight line running than you're used to seeing from Johnson.
His play is probably going to resemble other typical workhorse running backs in the NFL, even though he's still going to be a little lighter than most; think Reggie Bush last year.
Luckily for Johnson, with the addition of Kendall Wright and the apparent transition to a pass-first offense, he won't see as many stacked boxes as 2010, so he might do a little bit better.
If nothing else, he can't be any worse than in 2011, right?
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