Coming into the 2011 NFL season, one of the biggest debates was who is the best running back in the NFL? Generally speaking there were two responses. The first was Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. The other was Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. Eight weeks into the season, the unanimous choice would likely be Peterson.
After a record-setting season in 2009, in which Johnson was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year and became the sixth player in the NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, CJ2K, as he was dubbed that year, has now become CJmaybe1K.
A few highlights from that historic season included him surpassing Marshall Faulk’s record of yards from scrimmage in a season, with 2,509. He also managed to rack up an improbable streak of 11 straight games with more than 100 rushing yards, tallying up 5.6 yards per carry for the year. Perhaps more impressive than anything were his three touchdown runs of more than 85 yards. To put it into perspective, no other player in NFL history has done that over the duration of their entire career, let alone in one season.
Flash forward to 2011. After holding out for the entirety of training camp and the preseason for a new contract, CJ2K got his wish and signed a four-year, $53.5 million extension, becoming the highest paid running back in NFL history. Now, one would expect with greater monetary gain, comes greater production. It must be acknowledged that it is extremely hard to surpass anything Johnson did in ’09, given that many people denote that season as the best ever by a running back. However, after seven games, Johnson has limped and crawled out of the gate to a measly 2.8 yards per carry average, and an equally embarrassing 302 yards for the season. Johnson has also amassed at least nine rushing scores in each of his three seasons, but has only found paydirt once in 2011.
Many attribute Johnson’s painfully slow start to his lack of training camp and preseason, saying that he merely needs to get his legs under him. Johnson is a fitness freak and many around him say Johnson did everything he could, and then some, in order to be ready to report back to the team. The argument that he’s lost a step is also void, because after recording the fastest ever 40-yard-dash coming out of college with a 4:24, Johnson is still only 26 years old and should be hitting the prime of his career. Lost speed shouldn’t be a factor, especially for perhaps the fastest man the NFL has ever bore witness to. Experts claim that it seems Johnson has become more hesitant in his approach, and waits longer to find a gap to explode through, rather than hitting whatever hole is given to him and using his abilities to do the rest. Others claim it’s a shoddy offensive-line in Tennessee, which has struggled to mesh as a group all season. However, Matt Hasselbeck, who is a far more conventional quarterback than the likes of Vince Young, that has provided ample opportunity for Johnson. Hasselbeck allows for a reliable passing attack, which should take the load and focus off of Johnson, thus enabling him more open space when he gets his touches.
Whatever the cause may be, CJ has seen his production dip drastically this season. Most seem to believe that Johnson is a worldly talent who can’t be kept down forever, especially since this is only his fourth season as a pro. Until then, we will eagerly await for CJ2K to bounce back to form and continue embarrassing defenses like we’re used to seeing him do.
Tyler Galicia can be reached for comment at email@example.com.