If you have already participated in a draft, and your initial selection occurred anywhere from the eighth pick to the eleventh, there is an excellent chance that you chose Chris Johnson. It certainly appeared to be the logical thing to do, once the “big three” RBs (Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy) and the highly coveted “big three” QBs (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees) were unavailable. And after Ryan Mathews suffered a broken clavicle, Johnson became a clear choice as the fourth best RB on every ranking list, as owners prepared for their upcoming drafts.
And understandably so. After hearing and reading numerous accounts that Johnson “seemed renewed”, had arrived at training camp in excellent shape, and was focused upon producing like the elite back that he had been in 2008-2009, fantasy owners had to feel confident that he was indeed worthy of such a lofty investment. Particularly after H.C. Mike Munchak utilized phrases like "I think C.J. looked quick, he was hitting things decisively, and he showed some speed around the edge.", and G. M. Ruston Webster stated that Johnson was back to “his old self".
Johnson did look exactly like his old self in the Titans preseason opener… if old means 2011. Not only did he only manage to produce an unsightly eight yards on his five rushing attempts, but he also failed to catch any of the three passes that were thrown to him when he lined up against the Seahawks. Two of the throws bounced off his hands, which led Munchak to state after the contest that “You shouldn’t be dropping those balls,” and “Usually he has good hands and makes plays. … He would have been in the open field there with blockers in front of him. Earlier in the game he just didn’t make plays that he should have.”
His performance presents a nightmarish impression for all fantasy owners who have already used their first round picks on Johnson (and yes… I am among them). And it also serves as a very painful reminder of his extremely frustrating 2011 season, in which his lack of motivation at times was a borderline disgrace. Certainly no other runner came close to matching the level of disappointment that Johnson delivered to fantasy owners who utilized a top six pick to secure him last season (5.92 ADP). While he managed to finish 14th in rushing, with a somewhat deceptive 1,047 yards, Johnson was allotted the ninth most attempts (262), averaged just 4.0 YPC, and scored only four TDs. For some perspective on just how far his statistics declined from previous seasons, he had averaged 1,533 yards, 4.9 YPC, and 11 TDs from 2008-2010, and an even more impressive 1,617 yards, 5.25 YPC, and 11.5 TDs from 2008-2009.
Now… Johnson’s participation was brief, as would be expected in a preseason opener. And with most players, it would be premature to have major concerns until a larger sample size transpired. But even though a return to his level of production during those first two seasons was not necessarily expected, anyone who has planned for their upcoming drafts, or has actually executed them, expected something far better than the performance that occurred in Seattle. Given the significant drop-off in Johnson's effort and execution last season, and how eerily close his initial 2012 performance was to that unacceptable level of play, it is justifiable to take notice, and scrutinize Johnson closely as August continues to unfold. He certainly did not resemble an elite back in his 2012 debut. You should witness execution and production that is much more impressive, before you select him anywhere near where he is currently slotted to go in upcoming drafts.
That process will begin when Tennessee travels to Tampa Bay on Friday, as fantasy owners should examine Johnson’s effort and output very closely.