Last year, I thought I had the fortune of picking third in my fantasy draft. At first, I was excited about having to choose between LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, and Larry Johnson. My enthusiasm soon waned, as I grew less and less fond of Johnson.
Could he really withstand another 400-carry season? Would the loss of Hall of Famers William Roaf and Wil Shields destroy his production?
I pondered those questions until finally deciding that none of the other running-back candidates offered anywhere near Johnson's track record, so I went with the Chiefs' back.
Just 559 rushing yards and three touchdowns later, and I saw the mistake I had made. Of course, I nabbed Brandon Jacobs in round eight, but I digress....
This year, nobody has Johnson rated that highly. Last year, he was a consensus top-five pick, if not top three. Now he's a possible late first-round pick, rated eighth amongst running backs on Fox Sports.
Despite being just one year removed from back-to-back 17 touchdown seasons, question marks on the offensive line and at quarterback have not been answered.
Johnson has his own question marks going into the season, as his season ended abruptly in Week Nine with a foot injury. Johnson has called himself 100 percent, but even though he looked good in practice, it’s still a concern going into next season.
Frank Gore was a talented running back from Miami who was hurt so much that he never got to truly shine his talent. In San Francisco, he got his chance in 2006, running for 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gore followed his breakout 2006 season with a slightly disappointing 1,102-yard output with just five touchdowns. He suffered in many ways the same fate as Johnson with his supporting cast failing him.
But the addition of Mike Martz changes the face of the offense considerably. Former offensive coordinator Jim Hostler was known as a terrible play-caller, so the aggressive Martz should be a welcome sight for Gore owners. Isaac Bruce (55, 733, 4) and Bryant Johnson (46, 528, 2) were added to help give potential quarterback Shaun Hill (5 TD, 1 INT, 101.3 rating).
Let’s be realistic though.
The 49ers’ receiving corps is still average at best right now, barring a major improvement from tight end Vernon Davis (52, 509, 4). Even more importantly, the offensive line is still awful. That was the primary reason the offense could not function last season, and it will likely be its downfall again this year.
Kansas City’s offense is similarly bad. Larry Johnson is the focal point of an offense in complete rebuilding mode. Dwayne Bowe (70, 955, 5) and Tony Gonzalez (99, 1172, 5) are the only respectable weapons in an offense that will likely shuffle in young talent, hoping to find a hidden gem.
Third-year quarterback Brodie Croyle (6 TD, 6 INT, 69.9 rating) also hasn’t done much to prove himself at the NFL level.
Like San Francisco, the biggest problem will be with the offensive line. Kansas City tried to overhaul their offensive line, and first-round pick Branden Albert was a good start, but it still may be the worst in football, which should destroy any hope the offense has of being overly effective.
Gore and Johnson both will be the primary targets in their teams’ respective weak attacks. Johnson has the better track record, but look for Gore to finish with a slightly better season.
Look for Mike Martz to try to use Frank Gore as his Marshall Faulk. The victories won’t follow, but even Detroit ended up scoring a lot of points. I don’t put it past Martz to score points with these guys. They’ll probably turn the ball over a lot, unless Hill is the real deal, but that’s irrelevant for Gore's owners.
Johnson has more questions to be answered with a horrendous supporting cast around him. He’s coming off an injury, and with a potentially even worse supporting cast, it’s hard to imagine him do much better. There will be several games where the Chiefs struggle to score just one touchdown.
If these are your top two backs, go with Gore. It’s pretty close, but I give Gore a slight edge. Kansas City will be a slower, ball-control offense with Herman Edwards still as the head coach, whereas Mike Martz gives Gore more upside.
Neither player will be consistent without offensive line help, but both players will dominate the football for their respective teams and be the primary scorers.
If you draft either player and need insurance, Kolby Smith and DeShaun Foster are the top backups for each team. Neither Smith nor Foster is a threat to steal the full-time job.
Gore: 15 games, 260 carries, 1,102 yards, 5 TDs / 53 receptions, 436 yards, 1 TD
Johnson: 9 games, 158 carries, 559 yards, 3 TDs / 30 receptions, 186 yards, 1 TD
Gore: 1,150 rushing yards, 8 TDs / 70 receptions, 650 receiving yards, 3 TDs
Risk: 3/5, Reward: 4/5
Johnson: 1,100 rushing yards, 11 TDs / 45 receptions, 400 yards, 1 TD
Risk: 2/5, Reward: 2/5