Friday, August 16, 2013
Revisiting expectations for Chris Johnson
By Paul Kuharsky
We’ve written a good deal about Chris Johnson, his desire to hit 2,000 yards again and just how unlikely that is.
The No. 1 reason this season is the presence of Shonn Greene, a short yardage specialist who’s going to take too many carries away from Johnson for the Tennessee Titans running back to get enough carries to approach 2,000.
I played with some of the carries numbers in this post in March.
Bill Barnwell of Grantland has a smart look at Johnson Friday.
He says we should adjust our expectations based on Johnson’s career arc. The No. 1 thing that works against people doing so, however, is Johnson himself. He loves being CJ2K, and since he’s done it before he figures he can do it again and regularly fuels the idea.
I suppose it wouldn’t go over well if he said, “Hey, that was a dream season and a repeat is unrealistic.” But look, his mindset is one where he won’t race anything slower than a cheetah.
And in terms of Johnson, it's about properly calibrating our expectations. Because 2009 represented only the second season of data we had for him as an NFL running back, it raised (many of) our expectations to believe that Johnson was one of the two or three best running backs in the league. Three years later, that seems far less likely, because we now have four years suggesting that he's an above-average back and one suggesting he's a don. We should appreciate the above-average guy, even if the don isn't likely to return.
That we still wait for Johnson to hit his prior strides speaks to our human nature and the way we interpret growth in young athletes. The reality is that when we expect some players to be hitting their stride and beginning a steady growth process, they might actually be peaking. It happens more frequently than you might think, especially at running back. I went back and looked at every running back since the merger who ran for five 200-carry seasons, as Johnson has during the first five years of his career. Of those five seasons, the "peak" season in terms of fantasy points for those players happened most often in the second season (as it did for Johnson) of the five than it did during any of the other four seasons. And while the peak can sometimes just be a modest improvement over the larger body of a player's career, it can also sometimes be significantly better than whatever else he accomplishes. Chris Johnson's 2,006-yard campaign could be Brady Anderson's 50–home run season for the Orioles or Rob Brown's 49-goal season for the Penguins.
All of that in mind, Barnwell agrees that Johnson is set up to have a good year after the team did major work to upgrade its line with the signing of Andy Levitre and the drafting of Chance Warmack.
Johnson broke a 58-yard touchdown run in the preseason opener, making a decisive cut and quickly getting north-south. He’s looked excellent in practices, though it’s often hard to get a good read on a running back out of practices.
Let Johnson talk 2,000 if he likes. We should set more reasonable expectations. And those are for a very good, but not other-worldly, season.