One of the most polarizing moves of the New York Jets’ offseason was the decision to sign veteran running back Chris Johnson to a 2-year, $8 million contract. Proponents of the move think the Jets got good value for a player who still has something left in the tank, while detractors see it as a waste of money on a washed up player who brings more name recognition than football value. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
There is no doubting Johnson’s career resume, and he is a big name back who certainly can still play. Johnson has never rushed for less than 1,00 yards in a season in his career, and he has caught fewer than 40 passes just once (he had 36). Johnson has only missed one game in his career, and he doesn’t get enough credit for playing through injuries and remaining productive.
That being said, there are clear concerns about Johnson’s decline. He turns 29 in September, and he has just over 2,000 NFL touches on his legs. Last season, he averaged a measly 3.9 yards per carry, and he failed to break a run longer than 30 yards, alarming numbers for a speed back who made his name on big plays.
Many were quick to blame the Tennessee Titans offensive line for Johnson’s struggles, and they did rank 19th in run blocking according to Football Outsiders. However, the Jets ranked 21st overall, and they finished just 27th in second level yards, which is where Johnson thrives (the Titans were 21st). Furthermore, the Jets still had the NFL’s 6th ranked rushing offense despite the line’s struggles, indicating that taking playing time away from Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell may not be a wise decision.
In a perfect world, the Jets would like Ivory and Johnson to be a classic Thunder and Lightning attack. The smart thing to do would be to have Ivory remain the primary back, with Johnson still getting a solid amount of touches as both a runner and receiver. Johnson’s third down abilities give the Jets an element they noticeably lacked last season, and he should be very valuable in that role.
Training camp and the preseason will help sort out the division of carries in the backfield, but one thing that is clear is that Johnson is going to be one of the Jets’ better offensive weapons this season. He has an excellent track record of success, and using him in a reduced role could actually be to his benefit by keeping him healthy, fresh, and more effective when he does get the ball. Johnson is not CJ2K anymore, and he never will be. But that doesn’t change the fact that he is a solid player and a good weapon on a Jets team that lacks them, and he is fully deserving of his place among the team’s top 10 players.
Previously: No. 25 Bilal Powell, No. 24 Kenrick Ellis, No. 23 Geno Smith, No. 22 Dawan Landry, No. 21 Jeff Cumberland, No. 20 Antonio Allen, No. 19 Quinton Coples, No. 18 Calvin Pryor, No. 17 Michael Vick, No. 16 Willie Colon, No. 15 Dee Milliner, No. 14 Calvin Pace, No. 13 Breno Giacomini, No. 12 Nick Folk, No. 11 Demario Davis, No. 10 Jeremy Kerley