Dexter McCluster. Shonn Greene. Ricky Williams. Danny Woodhead. Michael Vick. Brandon Jacobs. Chad Henne.
That’s just a select group of NFL players who have more rushing yards than Chris Johnson three weeks into the 2011 NFL season.
The league’s second-highest-paid running back has just 98 rushing yards in three games, which is tied with another quarterback, Cam Newton, and leads scrubs like Montario Hardesty, C.J. Spiller and Toby Gerhart by only a successful bounce to the outside.
‘CJ2K’ ranks 37th in the NFL in rushing. and he hasn’t had a shortage of opportunities. Johnson’s 46 carries ranks 14th in the league.
Johnson’s 2.1 yards-per-carry average ranks 127th in football.
Matt Hasselbeck, who is Johnson’s balding 36-year-old quarterback, is averaging 2.3 yards per carry.
It’s hard to determine why he’s struggling so badly. Tennessee’s offensive line hasn’t undergone any major changes, the passing game has improved with Hasselbeck’s presence and the defense is ranked No. 1 in football.
And it’s not like he’s been facing stiff competition. The Ravens are obviously a tough defense for any running back, but Johnson has also fallen on his face against Jacksonville and Denver, both of whom ranked in the bottom 10 against the run in 2010.
And it’ll only become more difficult from here. The Titans lost Kenny Britt, their most explosive offensive player, to a torn up knee this week, leaving the offense with a major hole in the No. 1 wide receiver spot and putting added pressure on Hasselbeck, who was probably already playing over his head with 102 passer rating three weeks in.
With Britt gone and Hasselbeck likely to fall back to earth, defenses will be able to key on Johnson more. And while Johnson will tell you that the team is going to “get this fixed very soon,” it’s perfectly acceptable for fantasy owners to start panicking.
I know it’s a cliché, but running backs have shorter shelf lives than any other position in North American professional sports. Johnson peaked early with 2,006 yards in his second season, but it’s been a sharp decline ever since. Are his best days already behind him?
Johnson is still quite young at 26 and there’s a chance he’s been hampered by the lack of an offseason and training camp. He’ll come around. But people have to come to grips with the idea that we’re likely never going to see the 2009 version of CJ2K again.