AFC South: Jamal Anderson

The big CJ question going forward

January, 13, 2010
1/13/10
11:44
AM ET
Chris Johnson surely won’t turn away The Associated Press 2009 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, but when Peyton Manning won MVP last week, Johnson tweeted about tracking Manning down to go get it.

After his 2,000 yard season -- which has come to be known as CJ2K -- Johnson ranks as the NFL’s most electric player.

When Steve McNair was the Titans' quarterback, then-general manager Floyd Reese used to say it was his mission to surround McNair with talent good enough to get to the Super Bowl.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Steve Dykes/US PresswireChris Johnson is the first player to finish with at least 2,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving (503).
With a player as dynamic as Johnson, I think Tennessee and the Jeff Fisher-Mike Reinfeldt regime should be taking the same approach centered around him now.

But there is an element to building around a running back that complicates things: workload.

Johnson had 358 carries in 2009, which put him in dangerous territory. Football Outsiders touts "The Curse of 370." From the 2009 volume:

"Plenty of running backs get injured without hitting 370 carries in a season, but there is a clear difference. On average, running backs with 300 to 369 carries and no postseason appearance will see their total rushing yardage decline by 15 percent the following year and their yards per carry decline by two percent. The average running back with 370 or more regular-season carries, or 390 including the postseason, will see their rushing yardage decline by 35 percent, and their yards per carry decline by eight percent.

"(Just to be clear, 370 carries is not an automatic line where all backs over the mark are guaranteed to get injured; it just happens to be a handy marker that estimates the point where overuse becomes a much larger problem.)"



So that Johnson was 12 carries short of 370 shouldn't necessarily provide relief. Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson, Edgerrin James, Larry Johnson, Eddie George and Earl Campbell all got hurt or dropped off significantly after giant workload seasons.

Fisher said after the Titans' finale that Johnson wasn’t worn down and could have kept going. But he also spoke of how to distribute carries and the possibility of getting back to a split-carry arrangement like the one the team used in 2008 with Johnson and LenDale White.

“He’s unique,” Fisher said. “He could play 10 more games right now. He’s rare. He’ll rest up and take his time off. It’s not going to take him long. He won’t get out of shape and gain weight and do all those things. He’ll be fine. Obviously looking ahead, we probably won’t have to play him much in next preseason. ...

“I can’t answer your question right now and say I’m going to have a guy with 60 percent of the carries and a guy with 40 percent of the carries. This is a good problem to have. I’ve got the league-leading rusher by over 500 yards. He’s healthy and he’s coming back and he’s young. Whether we rotate them next year, that remains to be seen.”

To me, the question is, do you limit a player like Johnson out of concern for his longevity?

I don’t. If and when he’s running wild, I ride him within reason. Running back life spans aren’t long. Take what you can get now, and worry about later, later.

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