Chris Johnson is still in denial


Chris Johnson has high hopes and grand ambitions, which means he’s ahead of me I suppose. He’s not just the man, but the man with every plan.

He has goals he seeks to meet and surpass, and really, don’t we all? The problem with Johnson is that — for both him, and for the rest of us — it would be nice if he took the advice of every high school guidance councillor to heart, and set goals that are both challenging, and attainable. It would also be nice if he didn’t crush the soul of every fantasy owner who bites on his speed, and general sexiness.

What I’m saying here, Chris, is to please refrain from teasing us with your 2,000-yard goals. Oh, too late.

Johnson had a little chat with Jim Rome yesterday, and although Rome surely said “Chris” several times, his face remained in its proper working order. So that was one positive outcome of their talk.

When the interview turned to Johnson’s expectations for his 2013 season and beyond, the bar was raised to an exceedingly high level:

“I know I have another 2,000 yard season in me. I would love to get 2,000 yards again, but I haven’t been to the playoffs since my rookie year, I want to get back there.”

I know, taking this quote for more than what it is (again, a player day dreaming about an ambitious goal) is a pretty NFL offseason move. But forgive me, because I’ve been burned far too many times by an early-round Johnson fantasy pick, and surely you have too.

So here’s the deal, Chris: you’ll surely do well this coming season, especially with the improvements on the Titans’ offensive line after you often faced contact behind the line of scrimmage last year, which will severely limit a running back like yourself who leans on an ability to blast through a hole and into the open field. Andy Levitre — one of the league’s best guards — has been brought aboard now, and he’ll be paired with first-round pick Chance Warmack. All good things.

But while those improvements are nice and all, Shonn Greene was also added, and he’ll eat up a chunk of carries he doesn’t deserve. And as good as Levitre and Warmack are, will the holes they open up be enough to bridge a 763-yard gap? No, probably not. That’s the difference between Johnson’s rushing production in 2009 (2,006 yards), and 2012 (1,242 yards).

Since that record-setting 2009 season, Johnson has averaged 1,218 rushing yards per year, a steep decline which can’t be blamed solely on his offensive line. Watching Johnson run has often been a frustrating experience, as he moves laterally while tip-toeing in the backfield far too often, and even more often he just simply misses a hole. What’s stunning is the decline in his averages, as he chugged along with 125.4 yards per game and 5.6 per carry in 2009, and that’s now fallen to 77.7 per game and 4.5 per carry.

He’s good, and often great. But over the past three seasons Johnson has given us little reason to believe he can approach the same record-setting level that gave him ownership of the sixth best single-season rushing mark of all-time.

But go ahead, CJ, prove me wrong. I’d enjoy that.