Johnson has been the most interesting man in the league over the past couple of weeks while fantasy owners scramble to replace him and try to figure out what’s wrong with him.
But maybe he was onto something.
After suggesting that his offensive line was the reason behind his struggles in the 2012 season, a look into Johnson’s statistics reveals that the Tennessee Titans’ running back is averaging more yards per carry after first contact than total yards per carry.
There’s only one explanation for how that can happen, and it’s not good.
The difference between Johnson’s yards per carry (1.1) and yards after contact per carry (1.2) signifies that, on average, the rusher is getting confronted about three or four inches behind the line of scrimmage.
The numbers support the feeling that I got when watching the Titans offense through the first two games of 2012: The dude is getting swarmed by guys upon accepting handoffs.
Johnson’s head coach is a former NFL offensive lineman. It’s concerning that issues regarding the blocking up front have not been fixed after training camp but also not inconceivable that the problems can be fixed as the season progresses.
The Titans have been playing from behind for the majority of the year. That doesn’t bode well for a running back getting carries, either.
All of these things are negatives, but they can also contribute to Chris Johnson attaining the status of a premier buy-low candidate in fantasy football.
If a fantasy owner who spent a first-round pick on Johnson is ready to jump ship, there is no way that he or she can reasonably expect to receive first-round value for him right now.
So if Arian Foster or LeSean McCoy are requested of you in return for Johnson, just smile and walk away.
But how you can appeal to an owner of Johnson (who does not have sufficient depth at the running back position to comfortably justify sitting him for an extended period of time) is to offer what the owner needs: a more productive starter at the position.
You’ll have to sell him/her on it, of course.
Hey, I noticed you’re having issues at the running back position. Chris Johnson isn’t getting touches and I have this Alfred Morris guy on my bench. He’s got about 40 carries in the first two weeks and a couple of touchdowns. You want to do a swap?
This is a risk, yes. Morris could keep the starting RB job in Washington and Johnson could conceivably continue to slump during times when you may need him, like the bye weeks of your starting running backs.
But the cost of the risk is obviously worth it for a consensus first-round selection.
If the Chris Johnson owner in your league can afford to banish him to the bench without a second thought, then they can afford to wait on him, which means he would come at a considerably higher price in a trade.
Here’s why Johnson is worth the risk in the long term: There will be weeks where Johnson performs like a first-round pick in 2012. It’s just a question of how many.
Whether by improvement or by matching up with more favorable run defenses, the Titans will have better games in terms of moving people out of the way for Johnson to excel at advancing the football.
Johnson’s doubters would point to 2011 as a sign of things to come for 2012. Even if that were the case, Johnson had three outings of 130 or more rushing yards in that season. He’s simply been a boom-or-bust player in his NFL career.
2009 was obviously more boom than bust, but Johnson had two sub-60-yard rushing games that year. He famously finished that season with 2,006 total rushing yards.
Conversely, 2012 has clearly been more bust than boom. Johnson rushed for a career-low four yards on 11 carries in Week 1. He more than quadrupled his rushing average in Week 2, carrying the ball just eight times and gaining 17 yards.
The only time the Titans weren’t down against the San Diego Chargers was during the six minutes or so that it took the Chargers to complete their first drive of the game.
The point is that Johnson is on a positive trend (albeit, a mild one) and we have seen dominant performances out of him at times that fantasy owners were down on him.
Those performances weren’t necessarily unpredictable, either. He lit up awful run defenses in 2011 while getting bottled up by competent ones.
As we learn which teams can and cannot stop the run, it will be easier to decide when to start Johnson.
He’s no longer a must-start, but he can still be called upon to produce in select spots.