Chris Johnson: The fantasy football dilemma

      November 3, 2011 @ 11:06:06 PDT


"Basically, it can get no worse," Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson said this week. Fantasy football players hope he is right.

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

Johnson was awarded with the "Biggest Screw Job" award by SiriusXM Fantasy Sports for the first half of the season. The artist formerly known as CJ2K has been a huge disappointment for fantasy owners. Coming off a 34-yard performance against the Indianapolis Colts' weak D, it is hard finding any positives moving forward.

After being selected in the first round of most fantasy football drafts, Johnson has returned a miserable 47 fantasy points in standard scoring. That's good for 31st best amongst running backs through eight weeks of play. In point-per-reception formats, he is 20th amongst backs with 74 fantasy points. Didn't you somewhat assume he'd be somewhere in the 50s? It sure has felt that way if you have him on your team.

On the year, CJ302 is averaging 15.3 rushing attempts, 43.1 rushing yards and 0.14 rushing touchdowns per game to go along with 3.86 receptions, 22.9 receiving yards and no receiving touchdowns. Johnson's production isn't improving and Javon Ringer, the team's No. 2 back, out-gained him by 26 yards with just as many carries against the Colts.

We've all heard the excuses, ranging from his timing being off with the offense to him not being in football shape when he returned after a lengthy holdout to him not being as hungry after cashing in on a new contract. Whatever excuse you want to buy into, Johnson isn't getting the job done. And with just five games remaining in most fantasy football league regular seasons, time is quickly running out on Johnson helping your team.

Should you continue to blindly start him each week as many owners have the first two months? Should he be benched, dropped or traded?

There was immediate fear following Week 8 that the Titans would begin relying on Ringer even more. A benching would definitely help ease your mind in sitting Johnson. However, the coaching staff is making it clear Johnson is the starting back and they have no plans to even out the carries between the two. Coach speak? We'll have to wait and see, but head coach Mike Munchak said the team will play whoever gives them the best chance to win. For as much as I like Ringer as a hard worker, he doesn't give the team the best chance to win. He's a slightly above average back and fits his role as a backup well. He does not have Johnson's ceiling ... he doesn't come anywhere close to it.

Looking ahead: Tennessee's schedule

In the second half of the season, the Titans have six games against defenses that rank in the top-16 points allowed to the running back position over the last month. This list includes the Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts.

Week 9 - Cincinnati Bengals
21st most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 19.3 carries, 75.7 yards, one touchdown
Rec: Three receptions, 27 yards, no touchdowns

Week 10 - at Carolina Panthers
Second most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 26.5 carries, 113.5 yards, one touchdown
Rec: 5.75 receptions, 51.3 yards, one touchdown

Week 11 - at Atlanta Falcons
31st most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 18.7 carries, 81.3 yards, 0.33 touchdowns
Rec: 3.67 receptions, 25.3 yards, zero touchdowns

Week 12 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Third most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 26.7 carries, 142.3 yards, 1.67 touchdowns
Rec: 5.67 receptions, 44.3 yards, no touchdowns

Week 13 - at Buffalo Bills
15th most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 17.3 carries, 75 yards, 1.33 touchdowns
Rec: 4.67 receptions, 34.3 yards, no touchdowns

Week 14 - New Orleans Saints
Ninth most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 20.5 carries, 140 yards, one touchdown
Rec: Three receptions, 23.5 yards, no touchdowns

Week 15 - at Indianapolis Colts
Fifth most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 32 carries, 152 yards, 0.75 touchdowns
Rec: 7.75 receptions, 62.8 yards, 0.25 touchdowns

Week 16 - Jacksonville Jaguars
16th most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 27.5 carries, 110.3 yards, 0.75 touchdowns
Rec: 2.75 receptions, 15 yards, no touchdowns

Week 17 - at Houston Texans
26th most fantasy points to RBs the last month
Run: 21 carries, 83 yards, 0.50 touchdowns
Rec: 3.75 receptions, 33 yards, no touchdowns

A glimmer of hope?

  • If this was a card game, the Titans would be considered pot-invested in Johnson. They have $53.5 million reasons to let him continue to touch the ball often and work his way out of his funk.
  • Each passing week, Johnson's familiarity with his surroundings has to become more and more second nature. In other words, the thinking should go out the window soon and he'll be able to just purely react, relying on his pure skills in the process.
  • Finding running backs touching the ball a lot isn't an easy thing to accomplish at this stage in the game. Opportunity is the first ingredient needed to lead to success. Johnson has opportunity: He is averaging 19.1 touches per game; 15th best in the league amongst backs. Johnson has touched the ball at least 15 times in every game this season, including two games of at least 25 touches.
  • Johnson is a home-run hitter. All he needs to do is start hitting some of the big runs that made him so special in the past. One big run here and there and his production will go up exponentially.

For as much as Johnson has frustrated you this year, you cannot release him unless you are in the shallowest of leagues with limited bench spots. Even then, I would have a hard time punting.

If you can find someone in your league who is still willing to buy into CJ2K hype, go ahead and trade him provided you can at least land a solid RB2 in return. If not, view Johnson as a matchup play on a weekly basis moving forward.

Even with his pathetic statistics, you're going to be hard pressed to find a replacement seeing the number of looks Johnson is. The looks are just as important as what Johnson does with them. Half of the ingredients are in place, now it's time for Johnson to bring the other half to the field on Sundays.

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About Ryan R. Bonini

Founding KFFL in 1996, Bonini now serves as VP of Fantasy Sports Solutions for USA TODAY SPORTS, KFFL's parent company. Bonini was named 2009 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year by the FSWA, received honors with the Best Fantasy Football Series in '10 and was named into their Hall of Fame in '13.

His work has been found in USA TODAY Sports, Yahoo! Sports, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, NFL.com, and many others. He has also been featured on numerous radio programs around the country. Bonini is a member of the PFWA, FSWA and FSTA.

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