Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson's 2011 season was forgettable, but that should not prevent you from viewing him as one of the premier rushers for the upcoming season.
Johnson had a hard time adjusting to offensive coordinator Chris Palmer's blocking scheme, as it calls for running backs to make quick decisions after reading the defense. CJ2K is more of an instinctual runner and is at his best when he is provided a direct gap to attack. The Titans brought in veteran left guard Steve Hutchinson. He is a better run blocker than pass protector and, when healthy, is still a very good player.
While Palmer's system will remain in place in 2012, Johnson has the benefit of a full offseason to better acclimate himself to this style of play. Running backs coach Jim Skipper will be in his second year with the team, and he has produced 1,000-yard backs from the likes of Tiki Barber, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Stephen Davis, Gary Brown, Dalton Hilliard, Rueben Mayes and Johnson last year.
Savvy owners have short memories
The key to Johnson having a resurgent season, in my mind, is which quarterback will be under center for the Titans. Johnson's best games last year came with Matt Hasselbeck at the helm, and three of his worst efforts came from playing behind Jake Locker. Defenses loaded the box in effort to stop Johnson, since they didn't fear the rookie passer.
Johnson rushed for at least 100 yards in four games, exploiting several of the league's worst run defenses. He has the luxury of playing the Indianapolis Colts twice - a defense that will be transitioning to a 3-4 alignment and is bound to endure struggles.
Johnson has been attending offseason workouts and should benefit from building chemistry with his teammates. A chip on his shoulder could be all the difference in a rebound season, too. He has added six pounds of muscle this offseason, which should help him down the stretch and not cost him any speed.
Tennessee's schedule is tougher against the run as the season progresses, but they have matchups that can be exploited (New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills, Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars).
Simply looking at the major question marks of the running back position in this year's class will help propel CJ2K up draft boards. The likes of Adrian Peterson (knee), Rashard Mendenhall (knee), Darren McFadden (foot), Matt Forte (splitting time), Frank Gore (splitting time), Steven Jackson (possibly sharing carries), Fred Jackson (leg, sharing time) and Jamaal Charles (knee, sharing touches) are no longer surefire top picks. You can make the argument about major drop-offs in production from Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Michael
Turner, Marshawn Lynch and Maurice Jones-Drew being on the horizon, as well.
Johnson could wind up as a high first-round pick by default, but there is reason to believe that his game should improve. A healthy Kenny Britt (knee) will help take pressure off the running game, and you cannot discredit the strides that tight end Jared Cook has made. One more weapon in the passing game could do wonders.
Owners, especially in point-per-reception leagues, should not shy away from Johnson early on draft day. Even if Locker is the starter, he should be better than he was last year. Johnson is in the discussion as a top-five pick, if not a top-three in PPR setups.
About Cory J. Bonini
Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.
Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.
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