Why Chris Johnson Still Has Plenty Left in the Tank for Jets

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystApril 16, 2014

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17:  Running back Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the New York Jets at LP Field on December 17, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The New York Jets missed the playoffs a season ago, but at 8-8, Gang Green was a pleasant enough surprise to save Rex Ryan's job as head coach.

Well, the Jets aren't resting on those laurels even a little bit. Shortly after bringing free-agent quarterback Michael Vick on board, the Jets have once again gone the veteran route with a former Pro Bowler.

This time it's running back Chris Johnson. While much like Vick, Johnson's best days are all but certainly behind him, just like Vick, it's still a very good acquisition by the team.

ESPN's Adam Schefter was among the first to report Johnson will join the Jets on a two-year deal:

Pro Football Talk had some details on the financials:

New York was the first team to have the six-year veteran in for a visit after his release earlier this month. It's a signing that met with the immediate approval of Adam Schein of CBS Sports:

It also completes something of a running back swap between the Jets and Tennessee Titans. After four years with the Jets, Shonn Greene joined the Titans in free agency last year.

Now Greene will be the presumptive starter in Tennessee, and Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean wasn't shy about who he thought got the better end of the deal:

Mind you, it's not entirely that simple. Johnson's release was motivated in large part by financial concerns. The 28-year-old was due $8 million in 2014 as part of the lucrative extension he signed with the Titans in 2011.

The problem is that the back who earned that extension by averaging over 1,500 yards a season on the ground his first three years in the league seemed to disappear almost as soon as the check cleared.

Over the past few years, the explosiveness and burst that made Johnson so dangerous early in his career appeared muted. Johnson's 3.9 yards per carry in 2013 was the first time in his career that Johnson failed to gain four yards a pop.

Gary Davenport/Bleacher Report

Johnson's "elusive rating" at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), which measures "a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers," has dropped every year since his 2,000-yard season in 2009.

As Pete Prisco of CBS Sports wrote, "Chris Johnson once was a big-time home-run hitter. He's now more of a singles hitter."

However, while "CJ2K" may be long gone, that doesn't mean Johnson's toast by any stretch.

Gary Davenport/Bleacher Report

Even in last year's "down" season, he still managed to top 1,000 yards on the ground for the sixth consecutive season. Only Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings has more yardage on the ground over that stretch.

Johnson's speed hasn't completely evaporated either.

That 58-yard score came in the preseason last year. Johnson had a 94-yard touchdown scamper (against, of all teams, the Jets) in 2012, one of three scoring runs of 80 yards or longer that season.

As Prisco points out, those highlight reel runs may be fewer and farther between, but Johnson still brings plenty to the table:

If a team signs Johnson expecting a lot of that explosion, it is making a mistake. What that team will get is a player like the one we saw in a second-half sequence against the Colts in Week 13. On four consecutive runs, Johnson took the ball from the Titans' 13 to the 41. He gained 28 yards on runs of 9, 3, 7 and 9 yards. It was nothing fancy, but his good feet helped make those runs possible.

Something else to consider: Johnson still can help a team in the passing game. He had 52 catches, four for touchdowns, and his average of 8.2 yards per catch was second only to the 10.1 he had in that magical 2009 season.

Both those skills will come in handy for the Jets in 2014.

The Jets leaned heavily on the run game last year, ranking fifth in rushing attempts, sixth in yardage and ninth in yards per carry.

Fifth-year pro Chris Ivory paced the team in 2013, topping 800 yards on the ground while averaging a very respectable 4.6 yards per carry.

However, if you add the number of 1,000-yard seasons Ivory has to the number of times he's made it through an entire 16-game slate you're left with the number zero.

Now, in Johnson, Ivory and third-down back Bilal Powell, the Jets not only have a trio of capable running backs, but they also have more than a little depth at the position.

Not only is that depth a valuable insurance policy against injury (especially for a run-first team like the Jets), but it should enable the team to manage Ivory and Johnson's workloads.

And maybe, just maybe, that will lead to a few more of those long home runs.