When in the open field, there may not be a more exciting back to watch than Chris Johnson. He has blinding speed, can change direction with the slightest of ease and if he gets a step on you, good luck trying to catch him. However, as exciting as Johnson is, has he been the most impressive runner for the Titans this year?
Not if quarterback Jake Locker has anything to say about it.
On Sunday, Locker ran like many Titans fans have been waiting for him to run. He carried the ball five times for 68 yards and a beautiful touchdown, and he also threw for 299 yards and another touchdown. Heck, Locker finished the week as a top-12 fantasy signal caller. On the year, the mobile quarterback has carried the ball 12 times, and from watching him play, his acceleration is speed is vastly underrated. He can go from jog to full speed incredibly quick, and at 6’3″, 223 pounds, Locker has the size to run downfield. And while Locker running with the football certainly helps the eight percent of his Yahoo! owners, if he continues to showcase his mobility, it could also help the fantasy prospects of the man behind him.
It’s been another rough start to a season for Johnson, averaging just 3.7 yards per clip and no touchdowns. He is getting the workload necessary to succeed, however, as he is tied with Adrian Peterson for second in carries (69). The production owners have been receiving doesn’t translate that of a skilled running back receiving a bunch of work. According to Yahoo! scoring, Johnson currently ranks as the 26th fantasy back through three weeks. The most alarming number is two, as in the number of targets Johnson has received in the passing game this year. With a back like Johnson, you need to draw up a variety of screen passes, anything to get him in space. It’s been disappointing for Johnson owners thus far, but his quarterback could very well open up the run game.
Johnson stated that mobile quarterback have helped open up the run game in the NFL as of late, mentioning guys like Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. When speaking of Locker, Johnson said “He hasn’t really had time to show what he can really do, and I feel like this year he will.” Locker is a more than capable runner to open up holes for Johnson. During his career at Washington, he ran for a strong 1,939 yards and 29 rushing scores. And before he got hurt last season, Locker still averaged a stellar 7.1 yards per rush. As for the history of mobile quarterbacks, they have certainly helped running backs produce as of late.
RB’s alongside debut of mobile QB’s
|Alfred Morris (2012)||1,613||4.8||13|
|Marshawn Lynch (2012)||1,590||5.0||11|
|Frank Gore (2012)||1,214||4.7||8|
|DeAngelo Williams (2011)||836||5.4||7|
* Williams/Lynch set career highs in YPC
Clearly, whether you believe it or not, the presence of a mobile quarterbacks to see less attention, which presents better opportunities to break runs. Remember, these examples are just from recent memory. There have still been guys like Warrick Dunn, who set a career-high in rushing yards alongside Michael Vick in 2005, but was also very productive in 2004 and 2006. Locker isn’t as explosive or talented as some of the other signal callers in the league, but if he continues to take off and run, opposing defenses will have to keep that in mind, which means less focus on Johnson. The two could make a very good read-option tandem, and we have seen the impact that has had on the league already.
Johnson has a brutal schedule ahead of him, starting this week against the top-ranked run defense in football in the Jets. However, down the stretch towards your fantasy playoffs, Johnson has some strong matchups, so perhaps buying low on him now would be a strong option. And if the Titans use Locker’s legs more, it will almost definitely bode well for Johnson’s fantasy value.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.