New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg holds his newest weapon in the highest regard possible for a professional football player.
On Wednesday, Mornhinweg offered veteran running back Chris Johnson some very high praise:
Mornhinweg said Chris Johnson is probably a first ballot Hall of Famer. #nyj— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) June 18, 2014
You read that correctly—a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Johnson is a talented running back and no doubt a quality addition to the Jets offense. But a first-ballot Hall of Famer? I don't think Mornhinweg realizes just how exclusive of an honor that is.
An NFL player must be retired for at least five seasons before he can be considered for the Hall of Fame. Those who are elected in upon their first year of eligibility are referred to as first-ballot Hall of Famers.
Only 29 former players have become first-ballot Hall of Famers since 2000, and only four of them played running back: Marcus Allen (class of 2003), Barry Sanders (class of 2004), Emmitt Smith (class of 2010) and Marshall Faulk (class of 2011).
Review those names and it should be obvious that Johnson does not belong. But, for the sake of argument, let's compare Johnson's six NFL seasons to actual first-ballot running backs.
|NAME||SEASONS||HOF CLASS||YARDS||PRO BOWL||ALL-PRO|
Johnson entered the league in 2008, a first-round selection of the Tennessee Titans (24th overall). Draft position doesn't factor much into the minds of Hall of Fame voters, but it's worth noting that Allen (1982, 10th overall), Sanders (1989, third overall) and Faulk (1994, second overall) were all top-10 picks in their respective drafts. Smith was the 17th overall pick in 1990.
By the time of their respective retirements, however, the draft was but a distant memory for each of these four first-ballot Hall of Famers. Allen played 16 seasons with the Raiders and Chiefs, Smith played 15 seasons with the Cowboys and Cardinals and Faulk played 12 seasons with the Colts and Rams. Sanders could have gone longer than the 10 seasons he spent with the Lions, as he was at the top of his game at the time of his retirement.
Johnson would have to double his body of work to approach those of the aforementioned backs. And it's way too soon to declare a player a first-ballot Hall of Famer if his NFL career is only partially complete.
Bursting onto the scene, Johnson's first three seasons (2008-2010) yielded three Pro Bowl honors and a first-team All-Pro distinction (2009). Since then, however, Johnson has played three seasons without any such honors.
By the conclusion of their sixth seasons, Allen was a five-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro (went on to earn one more Pro Bowl), while Smith and Sanders were both six-time Pro Bowlers and four-time All-Pros (Smith would earn two more Pro Bowl trips, while Sanders would claim three more All-Pros, being named to the Pro Bowl every season in which he played). Faulk was only reaching his prime by year six, making the Pro Bowl five seasons in a row from 1998 to 2002 (named All-Pro 1999-2001).
Each of these players has a claim to fame as well. Sanders was one of the most elusive runners of all time, and the 5'8" jitterbug made for must-see television. Smith recorded a decade's worth of 1,000-yard seasons (1991-2001) en route to holding the all-time rushing yardage crown (18,355). Both Allen and Faulk were versatile backs who finished their careers with over 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards—former New York Giant Tiki Barber is the only other player in NFL history to accomplish such a feat.
What is Johnson's claim to fame?
A 2,000-yard season in 2009.
Sure, it was an impressive accomplishment and made for a catchy nickname—CJ2K—but it's not all that exclusive. It was first achieved by O.J. Simpson in 1973 (only a 14-game season), and it has since been replicated by Eric Dickerson (1984), Sanders (1997), Terrell Davis (1998), Jamal Lewis (2003), Johnson (2009) and Adrian Peterson (2012).
Is Chris Johnson a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
More importantly, it's a single-season accomplishment when the Hall of Fame judges a player on feats that take an entire career to complete.
Johnson does have a lot going for him. Aside from the 2,000-yard season he had in 2009, Johnson has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons. He's closing in on 10,000 yards from scrimmage, he has 58 rushing and receiving touchdowns to his name and he hasn't missed a game since his rookie year.
Although Johnson appears to be on the decline upon his signing with the Jets, he must go against what's becoming the norm for NFL running backs and extend his career several more seasons to be considered among the Allens, Sanderses, Smiths and Faulks of pro football lore.
Until then, it's absurd for Mornhinweg to tout him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
*All statistics and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.