Last week, I began a series that evaluates notable Tennessee Titans from a fantasy football perspective. In part 1, we took a look at the quarterback position. This week, we’re going to discuss running backs.
Chris Johnson, Average Draft Position: 22*
Chris Johnson currently stands as the only current Titan ever labeled a “Fantasy Stud.” Unlike with Jake Locker, the question with CJ2K isn’t whether or not to draft him; it’s when.
Last year, Johnson had a “down” year, rushing for 1,243 yards on 276 carries (4.5 yards per carry) running behind a beaten, banged, and battered offensive line. Despite finishing the year with five offensive linemen on IR and only scoring six TDs, Johnson still finished 13th among running backs.
CJ’s best game came against the Buffalo Bills when he torched the Bills’ sorry run defense for 198 yards and two scores. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough for him to live up to his lofty draft expectations as he was taken in the first round of most drafts last year. Johnson turned in erratic play throughout the majority of the season, posting just FIVE points or fewer in SEVEN contests, including a measly three points in Week 16 (the most common week for fantasy championships).
So where can you draft CJ this year and get the value necessary to justify his inconsistent play?
Chris Johnson is in line for a major bounce-back year, or at least, as “bounce-back” as he can be after rushing for 1200-plus yards. With the Titans’ rebuilt offensive line and a new focus on the ground game, CJ should find plenty of room to run. Reports out of OTAs indicate that Johnson will see a bigger role in the passing game this year, too.
CJ himself expects a much more productive season, as well. In what has become an annual tradition, Johnson predicted that he will again rush for 2,000 yards.
Although it’s true that CJ may not see as many goal-line carries with Shonn Grenne in the mix, it won’t stop him from taking plenty of breakaway runs all the way to the house. There still is not a player in this league that has the speed to catch Johnson from behind.
You don’t have to worry about his durability, either; the only game CJ has missed in his five-year career was Week 17 of his rookie season, when the coaching staff decided to save his health and his legs for the playoffs.
For those who worry that Greene will take away carries from Johnson, I say worry not. Even if CJ doesn’t receive the same gigantic percentage of the team’s total carries (73% in 2012, second-most in the NFL), he should still get around the same number, if not more, overall rushing attempts. The Titans will be running the ball more than they did last year. I do think Greene will get his fair share of carries but not nearly as many as Johnson.
Word out of mini camps was that this offense will greatly resemble the smash-and-dash days of the Mike Heimerdinger philosophy, which was run by LenDale White (smash) and Chris Johnson (dash).
From 2009-2010, under Heimerdinger, CJ averaged 21 carries per game, while the Titans as a team averaged 28 carries per game. Under Chris Palmer, in 2011 and 2012, Johnson, on averaged, carried the ball just 16 times per game. The 2013 Dowell Loggains-run offense should see CJ’s carries come in closer to the 21 carries per game of his fantasy glory days.
While I expect a solid fantasy season from CJ, I still think he carries too much risk to make him your No. 1 running back. However, if you score him as your No. 2, you could be in a great position to win your league. The middle- to late-second round, or if he somehow slips into the third round, is plenty of time to wait before scooping up Johnson.
If you are only going to have one Titan on your fantasy roster, this is the Titan to have.
Shonn Greene, Average Draft Position: 123*
Shonn Greene was always an interesting player to snag in the middle rounds of drafts when he played for the New York Jets just based on opportunity. Back then, he was the clear-cut No. 1 running back playing on a defensive-minded, ground-and-pound team.
This year, however, he’ll watch from the sidelines as Chris Johnson takes the majority of the carries. Greene perhaps has a chance to lead the Titans in rushing touchdowns this year, but that’s not enough to make him a fantasy starter.
While it’s true that Greene rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons, I wouldn’t expect that trend to continue. Greene is a plodder who doesn’t break tackles and doesn’t make people miss; the longest carry of his career went for just 36 yards.
The only value Greene brings to this year’s draft is as a handcuff to Chris Johnson. I wouldn’t recommend drafting Greene even if you own CJ. He is on my “Do Not Waste a Pick on This Guy” list.
If Johnson does go down with an injury, you can easily grab Greene or a better replacement off of free agency/waivers. Save the pick you’d use on Greene to snag someone with more upside, like Giovanni Bernard or Daryl Richardson.
Comments? Questions? Hit me up on twitter @JGra_TitanSized