Pop quiz, hot shot. It’s the second round of your 2013 fantasy football draft and you are looking for a running back. The top 10 options are off the board, and you see Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Dew and Tennessee Titans RB Chris Johnson staring you in the face. What do you do? What do you do?
Lame 90’s film references aside, these two backs are former top 5 fantasy picks that have slid over the past year but still have plenty of upside and similar 2013 average draft positions (ADP) around 21 and 22 overall.
Johnson ranked 13th among running backs in standard scoring leagues with 162 points in 2012. He finished the year with a very solid 1,243 yards as well as 232 yards on 36 catches. Unfortunately, he scored just six times; with one of those coming in Week 17 after most fantasy leagues have already crowned a champion. Despite dealing with a bad offensive line, CJ2K overcame a terrible start (45 rushing yards total his first three games) and finished the season averaging 4.5 yards per carry (YPC).
As for MJD, the veteran was a risky pick last year after a lengthy holdout, but things looked fine as he held up through the first five games of the year as the lead runner for the Jags. It all fell apart in Week 7, however, when his season ended after a mid-foot fracture.
In 2013 both Johnson and MJD, who will be 28 this season, are healthy and ready to lead their team’s rushing attack. Both have plenty of upside with multiple great fantasy seasons under their belts. Of course, both of them have their downfalls as well.
Since running for 2,006 yards with a 5.6 YPC in 2009 and earning the nickname CJ2K, Johnson has had three 1,000-yard seasons but his YPC has dropped, as have his touchdowns. A bad offensive line and mediocre passing game have aided in his fall, but those things were addressed this offseason. The Titans drafted OG Chance Warmack out of Alabama with their first pick and grabbed WR Justin Hunter with their second pick. They also took a center later in the draft, and more importantly signed former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre (arguably the top FA guard) and former St. Louis Rams guard Rob Turner.
By all accounts, the blocking should be much better for the small but speedy Johnson. A healthy Jake Locker and an improving wide receiver corps can also open up lanes on the ground as well as give Johnson more chances through the air.
One thing that should worry owners a bit is the addition of former New York Jets RB Shonn Greene, who could serve as the team’s goal line back. Greene isn’t a great runner, but he is stronger and more forceful up the middle than Johnson is.
MJD returns to a team dubbed by many as the worst in the league and is coming off surgery so there are obvious risks to drafting him. Owners can’t forget, however, that just two seasons ago he ran for 1,606 yards and even in his short time last year he averaged 4.8 YPC. He is still one of the most talented backs in the league and is also one of the few workhorse backs left. The addition of Justin Forsett shouldn’t be of much concern.
Given the facts that CJ has played in 16 games in four straight seasons, has one less season of wear and tear on his legs and is running behind what should be improved blocking on an overall better team, he gets the slight edge over MJD here.