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Chris Johnson Could Be a Volume Running Back

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson

Jul 30, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) rushes during training camp at Saint Thomas Sports Park . Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

If we can momentarily move past the oh-so-easy jokes about Chris Johnson‘s laziness and maddening fantasy football inconsistency, we might see a guy who’s going to carry the ball more than he has since his 2,000-yard 2009 season.

We’d also see a backup runner, Shonn Greene, who could very well benefit from the Tennessee Titans’ commitment to an offense created sometime during the last Ice Age and exceed his rock-bottom average draft position (ADP).

“That’s what we’re hoping to be all about, what we’d be able to establish and we did that,” Titans head coach Mike Munchak said after his team ripped off 92 rushing yards in the first quarter of their preseason game against Washington. “We have to be a team that we’re going to do it if it’s there. If we think it’s there, we’re going to run the ball and take over on the line of scrimmage. We may run it 10 times in a row if that’s what it takes to win, or we feel we can take a game over.”

Whether this is a Super Bowl winning offensive formula is up for discussion — probably a short discussion — but one thing is for sure: The Titans will go from 27th in rush attempts to somewhere in the top-10.

Enough volume will be there for both Johnson and Greene to outperform their current ADPs, I think. Johnson is the 11th running back off the draft board, going at the start of the second round, while Greene is RB54, drafted at the start of the 13th round.

Player Season Average Carries/Game
Chris Johnson 2008 16.7
Chris Johnson 2009 22.4
Chris Johnson 2010 19.8
Chris Johnson 2011 16.4
Chris Johnson 2012 17.3

The trend is clear in the table above, though it’s nice to see an uptick from 2011 to 2012. Johnson, despite that small per-game increase, carried the ball fewer than 15 times in six 2012 games.

I don’t see that happening again in 2013, even if Johnson proves occasionally unproductive as he looks for the constant home run ball instead of the four-yard gain.

The Titans’ revamped offensive line absolutely mauled defenders in their first preseason action. Combine that with Munchak’s undying commitment to running the rock 10,000 times this year and Johnson should outperform his draft spot even if his yards per carry remains the same.

Johnson has averaged 4.3 YPC since his record-shattering 2009 campaign. It’s hard to say exactly what sort of backfield spit we’re going to have in Tennessee, though I think it’s safe to peg Johnson for around 70 percent of the team’s total carries, and I think that’s fairly conservative.

Our little exercise here will assume the Titans run the football 500 times in 2013, which would’ve made them the fifth-most run happiest team in 2012. Below I’ve projected Johnson in two ways: one in which he receives 70 percent of the team’s carries and another in which he gets 75 percent of the workload.

That would give him between 22 and 24 carries a game, roughly on par with the per-game rushing opportunities of Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, and Alfred Morris in 2012.

Player Carries (at 4.3 YPC) Total Rush Yards
Chris Johnson 350 1,505
Chris Johnson 375 1,612

Here’s Greene’s split in these two scenarios. Greene’s career YPC is 4.3.

Player Carries (at 4.3 YPC) Total Rush Yards
Shonn Greene 150 645
Shonn Greene 125 538

This should be more than a little encouraging for anyone willing to take Johnson as their RB1, or Greene as a late-round flier with some flex play appeal as a goal line back.

We don’t know if Munchak will stand by his statements if and when his team is down by three scores at the start of the second half. This, like any fantasy football decision, is based on available — and therefore partial — information. Pretending to know how competitive the Titans will be in 2013 is a fool’s errand.

Will Johnson, who will turn 28 in September, match or exceed his career high for carries in a season? Probably that’s unlikely, but with Munchak’s run game commitment, it’s certainly in the reasonable range of fantasy outcomes.

I don’t think there’s  much of a question that CJ?K will thrive if the Titans are among the four or five run-happiest offenses of 2013.

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