Chris Johnson (RB)

05/02/2013 11:02 am by in Player Spotlights, Running Backs

Tennessee Titans v Seattle Seahawks

Where do you draft Chris Johnson in 2013? What do you do with him in dynasty leagues? There are a few factors that fantasy owners should consider. During free agency the Titans signed RB Shonn Greene and like it or not he’ll get some touches. Quarterback Jake Locker is under pressure to stay healthy and take the next step or the Titans will likely draft his replacement next season. The Titans added Justin Hunter this year, Kendall Wright last year and Kenny Britt is in a contract year and he’ll want the ball. All these situations impact Johnson’s value going forward so let’s take them in reverse order.

Jake Locker has to take the next step if he wants to keep his job and prevent the Titans from drafting his likely replacement next season. His maturation will help Chris Johnson avoid loaded fronts each week. The addition of Justin Hunter gives Locker another weapon and of equal importance, sets up the Titans should they choose to cut ties with underachieving Kenny Britt. Something that seems increasingly possible. For this year Wright and Britt will get their targets with Wright or Hunter in the slot when Hunter sees the field as the third wide receiver.

The stated plan with Shonne Greene is that he’ll be used in short yardage situations, given a series or so a game and kill the clock, but perhaps the biggest concern for fantasy owners is the goal line carries he’ll vulture. He is among the best at producing when given goal line carries. Green also acts as an insurance policy should anything happen to Johnson but with the new talent on the offensive line you can expect him to get some carries. The question will be how many! This team did not run as often under head coach Mike Munchak as it did with Jeff Fisher when Johnson and LenDale White were a tandem.

Last Season Chris Johnson famously three his offensive line under the bus, barring injury he will not be in a position to do that again. The Tennessee Titans invested heavily in upgrading the interior blocking for the run game during free agency and in the 2013 draft. During free agency they signed run blocking tight-end Delanie Walker and the best guard available, Andy Levitre. This trend continued during the draft when the Titans drafted guard Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick and center Brian Schwenke in the fourth round. Schwenke also has three years of college experience at guard and since the Titan’s run game got going last season after C Fernando Velasco was inserted in the starting lineup expect Schwenke to add quality depth and versatility to their offensive line. Depth that was not present last season.

Chris Johnson’s game is based on speed, he’ll be 28 when the season begins and even in ppr leagues, his fantasy production has generally declined since 2009. He has been used as a bell-cow running back with backups getting not more than 23% of the total carries in any season. That make Shonn Greene’s presence even more of a wildcard.

Chris Johnson had 276 rushes last season, roughly 90% of their total 306. Playing from behind hurts the run game. It’s unlikely that Johnson sees that many rushes this season given a quality backup. If we set his floor at 250 touches, granted it’s arbitrary, and factor in the offensive line upgrades Johnson could be in line to rush for 1155 yards or so. While Greene will get some goal line carries the offensive line upgrades suggest Johnson could still score seven or eight touchdowns.

The upgrades at wide receiver come into play when projecting Chris Johnson’s participation in the passing game. He saw only 49 targets last year and with the addition of Justin Hunter he should see about the same this year and have a similar number of receptions but better production, that upgraded offensive line again! A floor of 35 receptions, 254 yards with a nominal nod of one receiving touchdown.

The last factor to consider is head coach Mike Munchak. He can flat out coach an offensive line as five different running backs have run for 1000 yards twelve different times. He was on the hot seat late last season though and the Titans brought him back this year. It’s safe to speculate that he still feels that pressure and will probably go with what he knows best, the run game. Jake Locker’s development not withstanding.

So how do you value Chris Johnson in redrafts and in dynasty leagues?

Chris Johnson has a 2-3 window but the loss of value will likely be precipitous. His value will leave with his speed. In 2013 redrafts he looks like a high end RB2. With ppr scoring he gets a very slight bump into low-end RB1 consideration.

Dynasty leagues is where that 2-3 year window becomes critical. He should maintain his speed for at least next two seasons and if you are a contending team, that may be good enough. You may chose to keep him and ride him into the sunset. I’m doing that with Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson in one league.

Alternately, you may choose to move him at some point before the wheels fall off. The question is when and for whom? Do not move him now and my suggestion is to wait a year as he should produce for you this season. This will increase his value and the 2014 draft looks to have some elite offensive players. Whenever you decide to move on from Johnson wait for him to put a string of strong games together. Announce it to the league and let the bidding begin. Keep in mind that any first round draft pick you move him for will have lower value in that upcoming season and unelss you are getting a top three pick, moving him for players might be a better option.

As always bring those trade offers to the forum for some valuable feedback!

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