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Fantasy Football 2012: Why Chris Johnson Doesn't Deserve First-Round Pick Hype

Luke PetkacSenior Analyst IINovember 24, 2015

Fantasy Football 2012: Why Chris Johnson Doesn't Deserve First-Round Pick Hype

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    Cover your eyes Titans fans. You're about to see something you won't like.

    I don't think Chris Johnson should be a first-round pick. I know that he's had an unbelievable season before, and I understand that he's considered one of the best running backs in the league.

    And yet, despite this sterling fantasy reputation, I would hardly consider taking him in the first round. There are too many red flags and too many obstacles facing him to take such a risk.

    Don't believe me? Read on, my friend.

Tough Defenses

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    The first problem for Johnson is that he faces some really tough rushing defenses this season, particularly late in the year.

    Admittedly, he'll face a few mediocre teams early in the season and even get to see the horrendous Colts defense twice. But the rest of the year is much more difficult.

    After Week 3, 10 of the 13 defenses that Johnson will see were in the top half of the league in rushing last season. Seven of these teams were in the top 10.

    That's a big problem for fantasy owners. Running backs tend to wear down towards the end of the season. Johnson will have to deal with both fatigue and vastly improved defenses during the second half of this season, which doesn't bode well for his production.

    I understand that wins in September are just as important as wins in December. But there's nothing more disheartening than watching your first-round pick's production fall off a cliff while you try and make one last playoff push.

    Unfortunately, that could be a situation that Johnson's owners find themselves in this year.

Declining Production

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    There seems to be some kind of unspoken agreement between fantasy owners to not mention Johnson's fantasy decline. Everyone acts like Johnson's 2,000-yard season is still the norm rather than a year in which everything went just right.

    Because in reality, Johnson hasn't been nearly the same player since 2009. Just look at the points he's producing. In 2009, Johnson was far and away the best player in the league and racked up 342.9 points in a standard fantasy league (in this case, an nfl.com league).

    But in 2010, Johnson dropped off to 228.9 total points, making him the fifth-highest-scoring running back in the league. That's good but not great from a first-round pick.

    And then there's last year, where Johnson scored only 168.5 total points. That total was good for 16th among backs. Not players. Running backs.

    Anyone who assumes that Johnson is still the same fantasy option he was in 2009 is just wrong. Last year, he wasn't even half of the player that he was in 2009. I don't know if this downward trend will continue, but Johnson owners have to be a bit wary of his fantasy decline.

Jake Locker

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    I love Jake Locker, and I think that he's going to be a terrific quarterback someday. What I don't like is the way that Jake Locker will impact Chris Johnson's fantasy season.

    Typically when a team starts a young, inexperienced quarterback, it tries to ease him into the league by running the ball more often and minimizing the amount of difficult throws he'll have to make.

    Sounds good for Johnson, right? More carries means more points. Unfortunately, there's a flip side to all of this. Defenses are going to crowd the line and force Locker to make plays this season.

    Don't be surprised to see eight or nine men in the box on 75 percent of the Titans' plays. As much as the Titans are going to want to run Johnson, they may be forced to throw the ball because of the sheer number of defenders waiting for him.

    The best-case scenario for Johnson is that Locker plays like a seasoned pro and forces defenses to respect his arm. But the more likely scenario is that Locker plays like the young, developing quarterback he is, making it hard for Johnson to produce at the rate that fantasy owners would like.

Lack of Touches

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    Johnson's numbers were obviously due to decline after his 2,000-yard season. But instead of a small decrease, his numbers have free-fallen. The primary reason for this is simple: Johnson's just not getting the carries that he used to.

    In 2009, he carried the ball a whopping 358 times, the most of any back in the league. In 2010, his carries decreased but still stood at a solid 316. But last year, Johnson carried the ball just 262 times, good for ninth in the league. Johnson had 10 games of 20 or more carries in 2009. Last year, he had just five such games.

    It's a concerning trend. If you're spending a first-round pick on a running back, you have to be sure that he's going to get enough touches. And while Johnson was an active part of the passing game (57 receptions last season), he wasn't running the ball enough to justify taking him as a top pick.

It's Not a Great Value

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    Chris Johnson is still a very good player, and despite all of the obstacles I mentioned, he may have a good season. The problem is that his reputation has far outgrown his value.

    If any other player duplicated Johnson's numbers over the past two years, no one would be clamoring to pick him in the first round. The production isn't there. But because Johnson had one monster season, he's a top pick year in and year out.

    Let's say Johnson puts up about as many points this year as he did 2010. That would still only put him a few points above a back like Marshawn Lynch and just 40 points above much cheaper backs like Michael Bush and Ryan Matthews. And no one would take those guys anywhere near the first round.

    Wouldn't you rather have an elite quarterback and a guy like Matthews over Johnson and a mediocre (or at least much riskier) quarterback? I know I would.

    I honestly think that owners would be better served spending their first-rounder on an elite quarterback or even wide receiver (provided it's Calvin Johnson) and snagging a cheaper running back later on in the draft. The drop-off from Chris Johnson to the lower-ranking backs simply isn't steep enough to justify taking him so early. There's better value to be had.

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