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Friday, March 12, 2010
Larry Johnson to make Portis look spry

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

Mike Shanahan's first season in DC should be a lulu.

Clinton Portis, whose interview antics contributed to a poisonous atmosphere under hapless former Redskins coach Jim Zorn, got an opinionated backfield partner Friday, as Larry Johnson signed with the team.

Fantasy-wise, this doesn't matter, other than possibly indicating how privately concerned the Redskins seem to be about Portis. The incumbent Redskins starter will be 29 in September, a year before a typical running back's "Good Until …" date, but he also has a whopping 2,176 carries in his career, or 755 more than Johnson, whose legs look cooked. Certainly I'm not willing to dismiss Portis because of the concussion that caused him to miss the final eight games of the '09 season; lots of players have come back from worse. What I'm worried about is how Portis looked before he got hurt. I mean, chalk it up to a substandard offensive line (and that's fair), but Portis had exactly two runs of more than 30 yards in eight games and 124 carries. And in '08, he had zero carries longer than 31 yards in 342 totes. I know Portis had his two best seasons under Shanny back in Denver. But that version of "Sheriff Gonna Getcha" wore a younger man's clothes. I have Portis ranked as my No. 39 running back, and the Johnson signing doesn't change that. I know Portis has done loads better in the past. Maybe I'll wind up being pilloried for missing out on his final burst of glory in the '10 season. But I'm willing to take my chances.

Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson finished with 178 yards for 581 yards (a 3.3-yard average) and zero touchdowns in 2009.

As for Johnson, he was an absentee during seven games to begin the season with the Chiefs, gaining 377 yards on 132 carries (a not-so-sparkling 2.8 yards per carry). Then he yapped his way out of Kansas City and landed with the Bengals as Cedric Benson's caddie. When Benson got hurt in advance of Week 12, LJ made fantasy owners take notice with 107 yards on 22 carries versus the Browns, but it was versus the Browns. Coincidentally, he got 22 total carries in the Bengals' final five games, including nine in that lie-down-like-dogs Week 17 affair against the Jets in the Meadowlands.

I suppose there's a case to be made that the latter-day Johnson is a one-cut plow horse, and if he's going to succeed in any system in 2010, it would be in a zone-blocking scheme. And I would counter by saying I don't think he's going to succeed in any system in 2010. And yeah, I guess LJ is big, so maybe some folks will call him the Redskins' goal-line option, except Portis is already a very good short-yardage back. Anyway, I still think at some point in April's draft, the Skins are going to select a running back -- I'll go way out on a limb and say Toby Gerhart in the third round -- who'll make all this LJ stuff look like much ado about nothing.

Which, at least from a fantasy perspective, is what it is.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.