Now that the Redskins have signed Larry Johnson, they have two washed-up running backs to lead their rushing attack. Not long ago, I did a similar article on the Redskins’ backfield and expressed my opinions on Clinton Portis. Needless to say, those opinions are not very favorable for the once-exceptional running back.
In most ways, I don’t agree with bringing in Johnson. I understand that Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is very familiar with him after many AFC confrontations between Kansas City and Denver. But Johnson was a far different player then. Johnson isn’t much of a runner anymore and simply doesn’t bring enough to the table, especially considering his off-the-field issues.
He has always run high and been a big target for downhill tacklers to key on. His rugged running style and the high number of carries he has logged have taken their toll, and Johnson is no longer the dynamic player of yesteryear. His agility, burst and ability to break long runs have all waned. He is of average usefulness in the passing game on a good day and now really struggles to gain separation through his routes. Also, like Portis, Johnson offers nothing on special teams. When he isn’t carrying the ball, he is of little use.
Shanahan has a terrific track record of getting great production from mid-round running backs and Washington still could further address the position in the upcoming draft. I hope they do. The Redskins were rumored to have great interest in Darren Sproles if he had hit the open market and adding a smaller playmaker in that mold makes a lot of sense at this point. They could use someone with speed, who can potentially return kicks and has upside as a pass catcher to help out Jason Campbell or a first-round rookie quarterback. There are some mid-round options that fit this mold.
Or maybe Shanahan looks at the Redskins’ roster -- specifically the quarterback position and offensive line -- and realizes that his new squad is further away than one offseason of roster moves can account for. I can’t say I disagree with that assessment, as not only does the offense need an overhaul, but Washington also is in the midst of switching defensive schemes to the 3-4. In that case, draft a mid-round guy and see what you get from him in 2010. If his production is mediocre, acquire the stud workhorse back next year at this time. I am a big believer that running back should be the last piece of the puzzle when rebuilding an offense because ordinary backs can excel with a top-notch supporting cast and running backs have a very short shelf life.
Maybe Johnson holds down the fort with Portis for the season. Maybe he plays better than I expect. But in the end, I see two once-great-but-now-washed-up running backs in the Redskins’ backfield.