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Which Chris Johnson will rise from the ashes in 2013? You’d think the good one after the Titans improved their offensive line, and added Shonn Greene to keep his legs fresh. You’d think.

The Housekeeping

Notable additions: Delanie Walker, Andy Levitre, Shonn Greene

Notable draft picks: Chance Warmack, Justin Hunter

The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)

Chris Johnson (ADP: 17.7): These are confusing times for Johnson, and confusing is not a word you like to have associated with your second-round pick, and possibly your top running back. Sure, he finished with 1,243 rushing yards last year, but he did that while being the most maddeningly inconsistent player at a position where some semblance of trust is a required asset.

Let’s review his devilish taunting:

  • Over the first five games of the 2012 season, Johnson averaged 37.2 rushing yards. Unbelievably, that stretch includes a 141-yard game, with the overall per game average then dramatically lowered because all four of his games with 25 yards or less are contained within this sample, including Johnson’s opening week with 4 yards on 11 carries. Also, his longest carry in that game was five yards, making it longer than his total yardage. Not a typo.
  • So of course over the next five games, Johnson averaged 130.4 YPG. Neat, and that included a 195-yard week.
  • Then over the final six games, Johnson fell somewhere in the vast middle space between those two extremes with a 58.5 YPG.

I can back this up with absolutely nothing, but I feel pretty confident saying that Johnson is the only running back in league history to post both a four-yard game and a 195 yarder in the same season. His yards per carry evened out to a nice little 4.5, but of course that’s skewed by the towering peaks which balanced out the burning hellfire lows. Here’s the more important and depressing number: Johnson had seven games when his YPC fell below 3.0.

Much of Johnson’s demising then rising was prompted by a horribly weak offensive line which lead to consistent hits behind the line of scrimmage. Johnson is a swing for the fences sort of guy who needs a hole, and when he has it, he’ll explode and keep running to the parking lot Forrest Gump style.

OK good, so we’ll surely, definitely, certainly see more of the old 2,000-yard Johnson now that the Titans invested heavily in the O-line by signing Andy Levitre, and spending a first-round pick on Chance Warmack, right? Ummm, sure, but please recall that even when he was given a hole last year, he often comically failed to identify it. Dancing and prancing was more fun.

And then there’s the matter of Shonn Greene (discussed in more detail below), whose presence will likely strip some (or all?) of the goal-line carries from Johnson’s hands, therefore decreasing his overall fantasy production.

You shouldn’t hate yourself for spending a second-round pick on Johnson, because them’s the breaks at a position that gets scarce all too fast beyond that round. You should, however, prepare for unrelenting pain.

The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)

Kenny Britt (ADP: 92.0): I just, I just don’t know anymore. A healthy Britt is a productive Britt, and even though some parts of his body have surely lived two lifetimes by now, his age just doesn’t compute (somehow, he’ll turn just 25 in late September). That’s the upside: his youth, his relative health right now, and the fact that as a No. 1 wide receiver in this offense, it’s not hard to flip through the mental file folder and arrive at images of Britt doing beastly things. Before he blew out his knee in just Week 3 of the 2011 season, Britt had 289 yards on only 17 catches.

The upside is there, and if you’re willing to throw down your rabbit’s foot and hope for the alignment of all the celestial bodies and a season of health for Britt, his ceiling during a contract year could far exceed his draft slot.

Kendall Wright (ADP: 148.2): After being groomed for a year and having a decent little rookie season (64 catches for 626 yards and four touchdowns), Wright continuing his development in Year 2 seems like something that should happen, with a dramatic step forward. And that could be the actual course of events, making Wright more than worth his late-round price as a WR4 stash.

The problem is Justin Hunter. Between Wright and Hunter, the Titans have now spent two top 35 picks on wide receivers over the past two years, and with Britt entering a contract year, pushing youth along quickly could become a priority. That may result in Wright ending up on the favorable end of the battle for targets with Hunter, but by only a thin margin.

The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)

Delanie Walker (ADP: undrafted): Two things here. Thing one: Walker is on the PUP list right now due to a knee injury, and although he’s expected to be fine and ready for the season, there are much more appealing late-round sleeper tight end options than one who’s already dinged.

Which leads us nicely into thing two: even though the now departed Jared Cook was talented enough to line up in the slot for 276 of his 485 snaps last year (58 percent), he was still targeted only a downright criminal 72 times. God willing, that tight end usage will change under new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggins. But until we can be assured of that, Walker is only a commodity to monitor early on the waiver wire.

Justin Hunter (ADP: undrafted): Hunter has been ripped by both his position coach, and now safety Bernard Pollard. The football life isn’t an easy life, kid.

He could still be a high-upside rookie who emerges to take some targets away from Wright, and of course there’s always the ease with which Britt breaks, which gives anyone and everyone behind him on the depth chart value. For now, though, it’s difficult to see Hunter making a significant fantasy impact immediately. Ultimately, his best-case scenario may be Alshon Jeffery’s rookie season in Chicago. Jeffery was injured, but he still had a respectable 367 yards over 10 games.

Jake Locker (ADP: undrafted): The weapons available are plentiful, starting with even more support in the backfield, and now the addition of Hunter. Now all Locker has to do is complete more than, I dunno, 55 percent of his passes.

Through 16 career regular-season starts (so yes, one full season), Locker’s completion percentage resides at 55.5. Worse, last year he threw more interceptions (11), than touchdowns (10). Still, he’s shown fleeting flashes of something, sometimes. He’s at his best when he feels confident while running and creating outside of the pocket, and despite missing essentially six games (he left after only two pass attempts in Week 4), he finished with 291 rushing yards last year.

But while there’s hope for progress, development, or just simply being better than Blaine Gabbert, until he demonstrates some consistency Locker’s fantasy value is restricted to only two-QB leagues, a format where every quarterback who can complete a forward pass has value.

The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)

Shonn Greene (ADP: 154.1): Greene is under this here heading because although he’ll have a role in reality and do the only thing he can do (run straight ahead, create a dust cloud bowl, and fall down), he’ll have little value as a fantasy commodity while surviving solely on a diet of touchdown vulturing.

However, here’s an interesting observation made my many, most notably Dan Pompei of the National Football Post. Pompei reported that Tennessee intends to use Greene in a LenDale White sort of role, almost exclusively giving him the third down and goal-line carries. In 2008 during their only fully healthy year together (White missed three games in 2009, and he’s missed every game ever since because he’s not that good), White received 200 carries that he turned into 773 yards and 15 touchdowns while playing behind Johnson. The latter number there is sort of scary, especially after Pompei also notes that as awful as Greene was last year with the Jets (3.9 YPC on 273 carries), he was 100 percent on 3rd and 1 conversion attempts.

Johnson has received 85 percent of the Titans’ hand-offs over their last 58 games, and Green won’t eat into that percentage too heavily. Even if he does bite off, say, 10 percent, he’ll help Johnson more than hurt him by keeping the starter’s legs fresh. Johnson has now logged four straight seasons with at least 300 touches, including one with over 400.

That’s the most optimistic scenario. So maybe we should just stop there, and not at all talk about the fact that if Greene sucks back all the touchdowns, he could at minimum rip a good 30-ish fantasy points from Johnson’s cold, dead hands.

Cool, I won’t talk about it then. Nope.