Johnson Takes His CJ1K Act to New York
Chris Johnson signed with the Jets in mid-April, weeks after the main flurry of free agent activity. Fantasy owners have long forgotten the days of ‘CJ2K’ and settled in to accepting something closer to ‘CJ1K’ over the last four years. But with a return to double digit TDs last season and now moving to a team known to rely on the run game, can we expect more of the same from Johnson?
Looking at the advanced metrics, Johnson isn’t the best running back in the green and white; that title goes to Chris Ivory. Among backs with at least 25% of their team’s carries, Ivory ranked 5th overall in Elusive Rating, while Johnson finished 47th. Johnson is supposed to be the elusive one, but even Bilal Powell beat him out last year, finishing 29th. In fact, Johnson hasn’t finished in the top 20 in the category in three years.
We have a similar result with Fantasy Points Per Opportunity, with Johnson finishing 43rd to Ivory’s 13th. The same can be said of PFF Rating: Johnson finished -3.1 overall and +1.8 rushing compared to Ivory’s more favorable -1.7 overall and 4.2 rushing rating.
But if there’s one statistic that Johnson should still have been out in front, it would be those long runs, right? Breakaway Percentage measures the percentage of yards that come on runs of 15 yards or more. Surprisingly, Ivory had him beat there as well. In fact, Ivory’s 43.5% (which placed him 3rd in the NFL) is better than all but one of Johnson’s season outputs (a 50.4% in ‘09). Johnson finished a respectable 23rd, but at 25.2 percent, his Breakaway Percentage was barely more than half that of Ivory.
Could the offensive lines in Tennessee and New York at least partially explain why Ivory outperformed Johnson in these metrics? Nope, sorry. Tennessee had the 5th best run blocking unit last year compared to the Jets 31st. To drive the point home further, that was the highest rated run blocking unit Johnson has had since 2009.
About the only place that Johnson edges Ivory is in durability. Johnson has played 16 games in five consecutive seasons, while Ivory has never played a full 16. He did appear in a career best 15 last season, but that’s hardly enough to erase the injury concerns that go with him.
This injury factor might explain the reasoning behind the Jets acquisition of Johnson. Ivory is clearly the best back on the roster, but even in a relatively injury-free season, only averaged 12.1 carries per game. That output is probably the right amount to ensure Ivory is healthy over the course of the year, but they must want to ensure they have adequate cover in case an injury strikes.
So where Johnson is more likely to have a role is in reducing Powell’s workload. Powell started the year strong with five consecutive double-digit carry games, but had only three thereafter. He averaged 11 carries on the season, but he’s best suited as a 3rd down type as opposed to an RB1a. Presumably, Johnson will take 8-10 of those carries away.
It should also be worth noting that the Jets signed former Rams RB Daryl Richardson off waivers. Richardson was injured and an otherwise afterthought in St Louis, but was actually a decent runner in 2012 and is built in the same mold as Powell. Mike Goodson has also shown the odd flash, but all three of these guys will battle it out for 3rd down and change of pace duties.
Perhaps the signing of Johnson and Richardson suggests an increased focus on the run game in 2014. This seems doubtful, however, as the Jets were already 5th overall in total carries last season. And judging by the acquisition of prized free agent WR Eric Decker and the signing of Michael Vick to back up Geno Smith (who will both steal carries from the RBs), it seems unlikely there will be more touches coming to the backs.
So looking at all of this in totality, Ivory will likely remain the lead back with about 12-14 carries per game. Johnson will probably cut into Powell’s 11 carries a game, which would mean somewhere in the vicinity of 6-10. This is a far cry from the 17.4 attempts he received per game last season, and given that his key metrics aren’t particularly impressive, he just can’t be expected to return to last season’s production. He’s a late round flier or handcuff back at best.