Is Larry Johnson Washed Up, Or a Victim of the Curse of 400 Carries?

Nathan AtkinsContributor IJuly 29, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 16:  Larry Johnson #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs is upended by Aaron Francisco #47 during a preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on August 16, 2008 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.  (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

2005 was an unfortunate year for the Kansas City Chiefs.

At 10-6, they became the sixth team in NFL history to miss the wild card with double-digit wins; but for one Chief, it was bittersweet.

One man had finished with 1,750 yards and 20 touchdowns and was the NFL's third leading rusher.

That man was Larry Johnson.

In his third year with the team, he was named to the Pro Bowl. It was the beginning of a new era at Arrowhead Stadium, and around the league, as well.

His 336 carries were cause for concern though, (Johnson only became the starter Week Eight against the Chargers).

It was smooth sailing for Larry Johnson, however. He was touted as the next big thing. Not only were NFL analysts predicting success in 2006, but even Fantasy analysts were suggesting that LJ was the second or third best running back to draft. 

The former Nittany Lion didn't disappoint in '06. If anything, he was better than ever. He was the second leading rusher with 1,789 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was back in the Pro Bowl, but again his workload set off red flags.

416 carries. It was, and still is an NFL record. He surpassed Jamal Anderson's previous record of 410 attempts.

LaDainian Tomlinson, the leading rusher in 2006, only had 368 carries. He had 26 more yards than Johnson on 68 less carries.

In 2007, after clearly outperforming his rookie contract, Johnson demanded a new deal. He even sat out of training camp. He finally got a deal done but only made it nine games before being injured.

When he went out in the Week Nine game against Green Bay, he had 158 carries and 554 yards.

He was on pace for 280 carries, which would have tied him for ninth with Marshawn Lynch in 2007.

In 2008, LJ only played in 12 games. He was suspended weeks seven thru nine for violating team rules. He was then suspended again by Commissioner Goodell for his behavior outside of football (four different arrests and charges for assault).

He ended 2008 with 874 yards and 198 carries. For the first time since 2004, Larry Johnson wasn't in the top ten for rushing attempts.

That year, he was was on pace for 264 carries, which would have placed him 11th on the list.

Johnson seems a lot to me like another former Big Ten running back that got burned out quickly.

He joins that group with none other than Heisman winner, Eddie George.

From his entrance into the league in 1996, to his departure from the Oilers/Titans organization in 2003, George averaged 341 carries a season. George only played in 14 games with the Dallas Cowboys after he signed with them in 2004, rushing for a career-low 432 yards.

In his first four seasons before 2000, George rushed for 5,365 yards. George began to decline after 2000 in which he had 403 attempts. After 2000, in his final four seasons, he rushed for 3,567 yards.

400 attempts in a season seems to be the kiss of death for all that have embarked upon its quest.

Jamal Anderson had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons before 1998 when he had 410 attempts.

He had one 1,000 yard season after that, and two seasons under 200 yards. Four years without missing a start turned into 21 starts in 48 games his final three years.

James Wilder had two full seasons as the starter in Tampa Bay. In 1984, he had 405 attempts for 1,544 yards. The next year it was 365 attempts for 1,300 yards.

Then it was 190 carries for 704 yards.

106 for 488.

86 for 343.

70 for 244.

And finally, 11 attempts for 51 yards.

So far, Wilder is the only back to have a 1,200+ yard season after joining the 400 club.

It might be unfair to say Larry Johnson is washed up, but consider this: His stats are already in decline after his glorious 416-carry season.

He is 29 years old; come November 19, 2009, Mr. Johnson will be 30, another number many pros (running backs, in particular) fear.

This upcoming season will be the deciding factor.

With Matt Cassel at quarterback and the departure of Tony Gonzalez, the Chiefs will need Johnson to return to his 2005-'06 form to take the pressure off of Cassel.

Should I bother to mention that in six years, Larry Johnson has only had two 1,000 yard seasons?

I guess that's a story for another time.

Hopefully, LJ can break the curse.


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