|Which Chris Johnson will we see this year?
Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
I was tempted to abide by the saying, "if you can't say anything good about someone, then don't say anything at all." However, if I had followed that advice, then this would be a blank page.
The Titans rushing offense was ranked last in the league last year by Football Outsiders, and while some of the blame certainly belongs to the o-line, the biggest reason, as Ben Muth wrote in this piece, was the guy who made the most money.
Chris Johnson, of course, was the man Muth was referring to. CJ missed training camp in a holdout last year and after he received the money befitting a playmaker, which he claimed he was, he didn't perform like one.
CJ was 49th of 51 backs (in FO metrics) with 100 or more carries last year.
Don't think CJ's shabby performance went unnoticed by fans around the league. FO readers voted CJ the winner of the Keep Choppin' Wood Award for 2011 (player who most hurt his team.) Those who owned CJ in fantasy leagues no doubt cursed him for most of the year as well.
CJ has five years remaining on his new contract. Fortunately, his guaranteed money is guaranteed only for injury and not for performance.
Before CJ finally put a couple of 100-yard games together last year, Javon Ringer was doing a better job. However, that's not saying a lot as Ringer finished the season ranked 40th of 45 RBs with 20-99 carries.
The main upside I see in Ringer is that he's a stronger runner than CJ and he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body after three NFL seasons. Ringer is also the Titans best receiving back. He's not as dangerous as CJ is in the open field, he's just better at catching the ball. Ringer uses his hands to catch the ball like a wide receiver, not his body like many backs do. You don't see him making many drops.
This is the final year on Ringer's contract.
The third string back last year was Jamie Harper, the Titans fourth-round compensatory pick a year ago. I like Harper's size and skill set but he really upset me in the Vikings preseason game when he ducked out of bounds a yard short of a first down. I'd really like to see him have a good camp and challenge for some playing time this fall.
Herb Donaldson was in training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad. Prior to that, he was on the practice squads of the Cowboys and Saints. Look for him to be a camp body again this summer.
Finally, the Titans signed RB/WR Darius Reynaud, formerly of the Vikings and Giants, to a futures/reserves contract. Reynaud has no career rushes or receptions and is primarily a kick return/punt return specialist. He should compete for a spot in training camp, though I expect he'll be little more than camp fodder with Marc Mariani as the PR/KR man and Damian Williams as a capable backup.
Although the Titans don't really "need" another back if CJ returns to form, I hope they draft one if there's one they like. If CJ doesn't return to form, the Titans will need to find someone to be their back of the future and I don't believe either Ringer or Harper is that back.
The Titans running game and CJ in particular scare me. I know the interior O-line wasn't great this past season, but at least half of the blame for the terrible running game, in my view, rests with CJ. He looked soft last year, was easily arm tackled and went down at the first sign of any contact. On top of that, he didn't look as quick or as fast and certainly didn't have that second gear that he demonstrated in his first 3 years in the league. If it is true that he was out of shape and not physically ready to play at a time when he was holding out and demanding a big pay day, I have trouble believing that he will be in any better condition this coming year or have any greater desire to run hard now that he has hit paydirt. The big money is likely to make him softer and less willing to do what it takes to be CJ2K again.
Given this, I think the Titans need to go out and get a backup that will be capable of stepping in and carrying the load at RB should CJ's productivity falter again. I would love for a guy like Peyton Hillis or Mike Tolbert to sign with the Titans. The Titans need a bit more grit at the running back position anyways and one of these guys could step into the starting role if needed. Neither Ringer nor Harper seem to have that ability.