The New York Jets have been linked to just about every high profile offensive free agent this offseason, and one of the hottest names right now is Chris Johnson. The speedy running back has long been rumored to be a strong candidate to be released by the Tennessee Titans, and such a move could happen any day. If he were to hit the open market, Johnson would certainly attract attention from teams that need to add a playmaker to their backfield.
The Jets are one such team, as they badly need a third down back with speed and receiving skills. Johnson has averaged just over 45 receptions per season over his six year career, and at 28 years old he certainly still has some time left as an effective player. The Jets have rumored to be interested in Johnson should he be released, creating a thunder and lightning tandem with Chris Ivory. However, he is not the right the player for the Jets to target.
First of all, the Jets’ running back situation is not nearly as dire as some would make it out to be. The team ranked sixth in the NFL in rush offense last season, and Ivory and Bilal Powell combined to carry 358 times for 1,530 yards and 4 touchdowns. The touchdown figure would also have been higher if Geno Smith didn’t pick up so many rushing TDs in the red zone (Smith had six, tied for first in the NFL among quarterbacks). Ivory has never been the picture of health, but he did play in 15 games last season, and Powell provides a very reliable backup. All the Jets need is some speed and receiving skills to complement the pair.
Also important is the fact that Johnson has dealt with several injuries over the last few seasons, and although he has played through them, they have certainly affected his productivity. Johnson averaged a career low 3.9 YPC in 2013, and he didn’t break a single run longer than 30 yards. That lack of explosiveness could be a sign that Johnson is headed for a decline, and the Jets don’t need to add that to their roster. This is a team that should be focused on building for long term success, and that means that they should try to find a playmaker at running back in the draft.
The Jets have 12 draft picks this season, including three fourth rounders. There is no reason they can’t acquire a player like Dri Archer or De’Anthony Thomas in May, giving them the type of explosive playmaker they need in their backfield. Those players would come a much lower price than Johnson, and they would not have the expectations of a starting role and 200+ carries that Johnson has. While Johnson is a big name and many Jets fans would love to see another significant free agent addition, he is not the right fit for the Jets. They need a third down back, but they should find one in the draft.