Fantasy Football: Is It Officially Time for Chris Johnson Owners to Panic?

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Fantasy Football: Is It Officially Time for Chris Johnson Owners to Panic?
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

You can’t sell him low. He’s not performing well. You don’t want to start him next week, but you probably feel like you have to.

He, of course, is the Tennessee Titans’ star running back Chris Johnson.

If you own Johnson in your fantasy league, then the answer to the question you’ve been asking yourself is yes. Through two games, he has indeed been a bust.

Johnson hasn’t had the best two games to begin the 2012 NFL season. But his Sunday morning has been even worse.

What we know as Sunday of Week 2 in the NFL will be remembered by Johnson as the day his grandmother passed away (via CBSSports.com’s Ryan Wilson).

That puts things into perspective.

There is, in fact, a person behind your fantasy football score.

Victor Cruz played a game under similar circumstances this week and had a monster game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hauling in 11 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown in the New York Giants’ comeback win at home.

Johnson’s performance was less favorable this week, finishing with just 17 yards on eight carries. I doubt either player would want excuses to be made for them following a poor performance, but I can sympathize.

Going forward, Johnson’s immediate fantasy prospects look bleak. The man who was formerly a must-start option at running back has been reduced to a matchup play at best in the early goings of the season.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

His next few matchups don’t look so good.

The Detroit Lions, Johnson’s Week 3 opponent, held the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson to 53 yards rushing on 21 carries in Week 1.

Johnson has already demonstrated the ability to explode into huge fantasy outings in the NFL. But he hasn’t had 21 carries in his first two games of 2012 combined.

Week 4 will see the Tennessee Titans facing the Houston Texans on the road at Houston. The Texans, though touted as a strong NFL defense, have allowed 5.0 yards per carry to Reggie Bush and Maurice Jones-Drew through the first two weeks.

If there’s going to be a breakout game for Johnson in the near future, that could be it. But again, Johnson’s not going to have many opportunities to carry the ball if the Titans fall behind early like they did against the Patriots and Chargers.

The Titans’ Week 5 matchup comes against the Minnesota Vikings, who also faced Maurice Jones-Drew this season. Their run defense has looked better (in terms of yards-per-carry allowed) than the Texans’ thus far this season.

But you can’t sell Johnson low.

Because if he returns to form, the owner who trades for Chris Johnson at this stage is likely going to win his (or her) fantasy league.

In 2011, Johnson sent fantasy owners into a tail-spin with similarly awkward performances in his first two appearances.

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He totaled 77 rushing yards on 33 carries on the road against the Jaguars and at home against the Baltimore Ravens.

Entering November, Johnson had 107 rushes for just 302 yards and one lone touchdown. By then, his fantasy owners were likely in serious doubt to make their playoffs.

Don’t make the mistake of blindly starting him as a No. 1 RB if you want to avoid that outlook. You’ll have to temper expectations (and keep up hopes) if you have him in your lineup. While Johnson struggles, it would be a good idea to try a patchwork approach at the running back spot.

Keeping an eye on matchups and fantasy running back rankings should assist in finding sneaky plays in the interim.

Otherwise, you can take this opportunity to start your No. 3 or No. 4 running back that perpetually rides your bench for fear of missing a big game from Johnson.

For example, owners with C.J. Spiller of the Buffalo Bills, the Chicago Bears’ Michael Bush, the New York Giants’ Andre Brown (and/or David Wilson) and the Washington Redskins’ Alfred Morris should give strong consideration to starting those guys while Johnson works through his slump.

As far as we know, he’s not injured. So Chris Johnson’s fantasy owners are still largely in a better position post-Week 2 than owners of Jamaal Charles were last season.

There is some reason to be optimistic as the season progresses and we learn who can really stop the run and who can’t.

Johnson posted legitimate figures in the yards-per-carry column against the Bucs (8.3), Bills (6.7) and Panthers (4.8) last season. He went for 130 yards or more on the ground in all three of those contests.

It is no coincidence that those were three of the league’s more…friendly run defenses.

There’s no reason to panic. Just calmly remove Johnson from your fantasy lineups until he shows you he belongs again.

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