Buyer Beware: History Indicates Down Year for Chris Johnson

jonathan staub@JStaubSportTalkCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2010

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 28:  Runningback Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans walks on the sidelines before  the start of their preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on August 28, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images)
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

With the NFL season preparing to open with a rematch of last year's NFC Championship game Thursday night and fantasy football drafts winding down across the country, thousands of online players are huddling over their computers trying to work out trades to better their teams from one of the tougher draft fields in recent memories.

Fantasy football is won on following the most basic of principalsthe belief being that consistency will lead to a championship. Victories are not always earned by the players with the biggest numbers, but rather those who put up the most consistent numbers on a week-to-week basis.

It is one thing to win one week by 50 pointsit is another to lose the next four by a combined total less than half that of your victory.

While this year’s field presented a myriad of enigmas, who were sure to leave owners second guessing their every move after the first round, the consensus top pick across the nation seemed inevitable.

So obvious was this selection that you could almost close your eyes and see Roger Goodell approaching the podium to read it off as if it were draft day:

“With the first overall selection in this years fantasy draft, Alf’s Awesome Avengers (or whatever your creative name turned out to be) selects running back, from the Tennessee Titans, Chris Johnson.”

Who could blame you if you had this pick?

The sixth man in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season did so in dominating fashion in his sophomore season. If you obey the theory of consistency, no running back was more consistent than the stud from East Carolina.

Despite a rough start to the season in which he only scored twice, not including a receiving touchdown in Week 2, yet in the first six games he rushed for 596 yards, only breaking the 100 yard mark in two of those same six; however, Johnson finished on one of the most masterful 10 week performances in NFL history.

10 straight 100 yard games (11 if you count the week prior to the bye) totaling 1,410 yards, 12 touchdowns, 34 receptions for 377 yards and another score, and you have a 10-week span that would be considered a phenomenal season for nearly every fantasy running back on the board this year.

Johnson’s dominance gained him entrance into one of the NFL’s most exclusive clubs. With entry to this club, however, came one of the most unenviable membership benefits around.

The 2,000 yard rushing club is as impressive a club as it is daunting to gain entry, but for as impressive as it is to gain entry, it’s members were never quite the same after garnering entry.

The last two 2,000 yard rushers, Jamal Lewis (2003) and Terrell Davis (1998), both tore their ACL's in the following season, thus effectively spelling the end of Terrell Davis’ career and limiting the production of Jamal Lewis ever since; Davis only managed four total touchdowns and 1,194 rushing yards combined over the next three seasons before retiring and Lewis has only seen more than 300 touches in a season one time since.

Prior to the Mile High Saluting T.D., Barry Sanders eclipsed the 2000 yard mark in the 1997 season and followed it with his lowest rushing total in five years (1,491 yards) and the second lowest touchdown output of his career (four); Sanders 1,491 yards stands as the highest post-2,000 yard season total in NFL history.

1984 marked the sophmore season for Los Angeles Rams rookie sensation Eric Dickerson: After rushing for 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns in his rookie season, Dickerson followed a rookie record setting year with the top single season rushing total in NFL history at 2,105 yards.

The ‘84 season took it’s toll on Dickerson, however: he followed that historic campaign with a 1,234 yard, 12 touchdown season in which he carried the ball 87 fewer times and played in only 14 of the Rams' 16 games.

Dickerson would record the highest carry total of his career in the 1986 season with 404 touches that went for 1,821 yards and 11 touchdowns, but would watch his career enter a downward spiral, after in which he only rushed for more than seven touchdowns in a season once, fail to break 1,000 yards in five of his remaining eight seasons, one season only reaching 1,011 yards, and only play in 16 games twice in his final eight seasons. He would also only record more than 225 touches in a season twice in those final fateful eight seasons.

Dickerson experienced one more dominant season in 1988, but was never truly the same after his ‘84 campaign.

The final member of the club, “The Juice” O.J. Simpson, who also happened to be it’s inaugural member, may hold the club's most prestigious honor: Simpson reached the 2,000 yard mark while the NFL still competed in 14 game seasons, but he was not immune to the landmark’s curse.

After rushing for 2,003 yards in the 1973 season, Simpson only managed 1,125 and three touchdowns in the campaign that followed. Averaging only 80 yards a game in the ‘74 season, the Juice’s follow-up campaign extrapolates to a to a 1,285 yard season over a 16-game span.

Not only does Johnson share the 2,000 yard bond with these individuals, he also mirrors their accomplishments in that these milestones, outside of Barry Sanders, were set early in these men’s careers.

With over 400 total touches last season, rushing and receiving combine, 16 total touchdowns, and 2,500 yards from scrimmage, Johnson seems like the no-brainer to take first overall in fantasy drafts and keep an eye on all year as a league MVP candidate.

History has also shown us that it is next year that could prove to be the follow-up season that owners are expecting to get this year out of Johnson; both Simpson (1,817 yards 16 tds) and Dickerson (1,821 yards 11 tds) were able to bounce back and have another year worth mentioning.

If history has taught us anything, it is that Johnson is due for a down year. Every member of the 2,000 yard club suffered a down season in some way in the season that followed, whether it be touchdowns or yards, productivity dropped in their follow-up campaigns.

While this may not be what fantasy owners, Titan fans, and NFL purists want to hear, it is hard to ignore history.

Johnson presents a unique combination of speed, agility, and grit that would seemingly fit the game no matter the decade and has people drawing comparisons to Walter Payton.

His 4.2 speed makes him a threat to break off long runs at the rate Peyton Manning completes passes and his ability to keep his legs moving and his feet high makes him a handful to bring down in the open field.

Despite his raw blend of talents, Johnson will not only be battling opposing defenses this yearhe will be challenging history.

No matter your interestwhether it be fantasy, fan, opponent, or analystChris Johnson may look like the obvious pick, but history indicates that the Titans 24-year old stud will be more disappointment than dominant in the 2010 NFL season.