Pick Your Poison: Thomas Jones Vs. Larry Johnson
In today’s second installment of the NFP’s “Pick your poison” series, we turn our attention to the running back position.
Arguably the most important spot on your fantasy football roster, owners need to make sure that the running backs they draft this summer are players they can build their team around. Overpaying for a player like Willis McGahee in 2008 had disastrous results for owners as McGahee finished outside the top 30 in scoring among fantasy running backs.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.
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Today’s matchup: Thomas Jones vs. Larry Johnson
The case for Jones
Jones experienced a re-birth in 2008, posting the second-best rushing output (1,312 yards) and second-highest yards-per-carry average (4.5) of his nine-year career. He also set a career high in rushing touchdowns (13) on his way to a top-five fantasy finish.
The biggest plus for Jones is that he’s still the No. 1 back on the Jets’ roster and will be a key ingredient in the success of the offense as rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez gets adjusted to life in the NFL.
In addition, Jones is running behind one of the best offensive lines in football, anchored by perennial Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca and offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
In what could also be construed as a negative against Jones, he’ll have backup running backs Leon Washington and rookie Shonn Greene spelling him throughout the season in an effort to keep his legs fresh for late in the year.
The case against Jones
Jones turns 31 in August and has made it known that he’s very unhappy with his current contract, even going so far as to suggest he might hold out of training camp. That’s not exactly a reassuring sentiment for owners since the Jets have two very capable running backs just waiting to jump in and steal Jones’ carries.
Yes, Washington is also involved in a contract dispute and is the more well-known of the New York backups, but don’t get caught sleeping on Greene. We’ve been hearing from some of our contacts (and it has also appeared in the media) that Greene had an impressive offseason, and head coach Rex Ryan really likes him (SLEEPER ALERT).
Given that Greene is a 5'11", 227-pound bruiser, he’s also likely to steal some of the goal-line carries this season, further limiting Jones’ fantasy potential.
Keep in mind: Jones faded down the stretch last year as he failed to eclipse 80 yards rushing in any of the Jets’ final four games.
The case for Johnson
Johnson is coming off a disappointing 2008 campaign, yet he still managed to post his highest yards-per-carry average of the past three years (4.5).
The Chiefs made a big splash this offseason when they traded for former Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel and acquired veteran wide receiver Bobby Engram in an effort to upgrade their offensive firepower and bolster a young receiving unit that features Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley.
The biggest concern owners had about Johnson the past few years was the amount of tread he had on his tires. L.J. carried the ball an astounding 752 times between the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
The upside here is that between injuries and suspensions, he’s amassed only 351 carries over the past two years, limiting the amount of wear on his body.
What makes Johnson an attractive running back this season is that he could be a great value pick. He still has some gas left in the tank, but after last year’s disappointing finish, many owners will be hesitant to pull the trigger come draft day, causing him to fall down the board.
Despite being one of the worst teams in the NFL last year, the Chiefs ranked 16th in rushing (113.1 yards per game) and were tied for second in yards-per-carry average (4.8).
The case against Johnson
Just like Jones, Johnson is getting up in age. He turns 30 in November and hasn’t rushed for over 875 yards in a season since 2006.
In addition, Johnson saw a drop in receptions last year, failing to catch more than 20 passes or score a receiving touchdown for the first time since his rookie season (2003). Backup running back Jamaal Charles filled in admirably for L.J., averaging 5.3 yards per carry on his way to 357 yards rushing. Expect Charles to see more carries again in 2009.
The biggest hit the Chiefs took this offseason was the loss of Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzo accounted for 32 percent of Kansas City’s receptions in 2008 and was constantly forcing defenses to send extra attention in his direction.
With Tony G. now in Atlanta, expect coverage to be rolled in Bowe’s direction, making it more difficult to establish the passing game. And if the Chiefs can’t get the passing game going, forget about the running game.
Both players have relatively favorable schedules this season in terms of the rushing defenses they’ll be facing. Jones will play eight games against teams that ranked 20th or lower in rushing defense, and L.J. will get seven opportunities to torch opposing defenses that finished outside the top 20 against the run in 2008.
Fantasy playoff schedule
Jones’ final four games: Tampa Bay (road), Atlanta (home), Indianapolis (road), Cincinnati (home).
Johnson’s final four games: Buffalo (home), Cleveland (home), Cincinnati (road), Denver (road).
EDGE: Johnson. Each of his final four games will be played against a defense that finished 21st or worse against the run in 2008.
Johnson’s going to get the carries while Jones is playing for the better football team. The determining factor will be how much of the workload Jones is asked to handle. Despite the contract problems and competition for carries, I’m giving the edge to Jones.
He’s coming off a monster season and is looking to cash in on one last payday. However, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if L.J. dug down deep and put together one more quality fantasy season.
Now it’s time for you guys to weigh in. Who ya got?
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