5 Reasons to Stop Any Chris Johnson Excitement
It was kind of unbelievable, actually. After it was announced that the New York Jets signed Chris Johnson, there were loads of positive reactions hitting social media. Positive ones. As in, people liked the signing.
It’s not a move that’s going to break the Jets’ bank, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be criticized. If I only spend a dollar for a White Castle cheeseburger, I’m still making a mistake because White Castle is awful. And in this case, Chris Johnson is a White Castle cheeseburger.
Oh, I’m fully aware that he once rushed for 2,000 yards, and that the Jets really haven’t had any semblance of a running back since Thomas Jones, if we’d like to call him above average. I know the offense was a bottom-tiered one at running the football last year. But look, if I’m hungry, I’m still not eating at White Castle. I’d rather find a value deal somewhere else.
I ripped apart Johnson’s play in an article last week unkindly called, Why Chris Johnson Isn’t Even Average. Perhaps you’ve already read that, and you may find some of the information here a little repetitive. But it needs to be said, repeated, and said again: Chris Johnson is an incredibly overrated running back.
And I’m not fully convinced things are going to all of a sudden change now that he’s playing in New York. Here are five reasons why.
1. He’s posted numbers based on volume.
As I noted last week, there have been 328 200-plus attempt running back seasons since 2000. Chris Johnson’s median season in terms of Rushing Net Expected Points (read more about NEP here) ranks in the 25th percentile among those running backs. In other words, a typical season from Chris Johnson yields a total worse than mediocre.
The two things that have gone Johnson’s way is the fact that the Titans continuously used him, and that he was able to stay healthy. I think the number one reason the Titans never gave up on the runner, too, was because of his sophomore season, where he did, indeed, rush like a maniac. But since that year, Johnson’s compiled numbers that you’d find from some of the worst volume rushers in the NFL.
The problem is that fans see his 1,000-yard rushing marks year after year, and assume that he’s running effectively. That’s just not the case. The reason he’s hit those totals is because he’s seen the second-most carries in the NFL since entering the league, behind only Adrian Peterson. Among players with the same type of volume as Johnson since he entered the league, CJWhateverYouWantToCallHimK has been by far the least effective, even when you factor in his 2,000-yard campaign. A chart of these runners is listed in the article write up from last week.
2. There’s still competition.
The point above leads me to the next one: Chris Johnson won't see the same type of volume he has in the past because he now has competition in the backfield.
In truth, we’ve never seen Chris Johnson as a change-of-pace, or even a 1-2 punch type of back. While some may point to his days playing alongside LenDale White, keep in mind that Johnson still saw a combined 609 rushing attempts when LenDale was a thing. That’s a lot of carries.
Last year, the Jets ran the fifth-most rushing plays in the NFL (494). Chris Ivory ended up seeing 182 of those, while Bilal Powell had 176. Even if we make the assumption that the Jets are going to give their running backs 50 more carries - which would make them one of the most run-happy teams in the league in terms of volume - the top runner in attempts won't see much more than 200 carries, assuming there's a split. In other words, if Chris Johnson continues his inefficient rushing, he'll be lucky to reach 900 yards on the ground. And that's assuming he's the running back who gets the most carries on the team.
Now, I will say that it's almost a certainty that Chris Ivory is going to miss time, so at least Johnson has that going for him. But go look at Chris Johnson's numbers and tell me why you're excited. Even if he gets an opportunity to be the lead back, is it really going to result in anything spectacular? What has he shown over the last four years to make you believe he's all of a sudden going to be efficient?
I'd also like to note that Chris Ivory, the runner he'll be competing with for touches, saw a -.01 Rushing NEP per rush last year on 182 carries. Do you know how many times Chris Johnson has reached that average in a single season since his 2,000-yard campaign? Zero.
3. He’s still overrated as a pass-catcher.
I’ve seen and heard that Johnson could be used on passing downs, and just like the first point above, Johnson's essentially seen good numbers through the air based on volume. While he's averaged over 45 catches a year out of the backfield, his Reception NEP per target score has been just 0.23. I'm sure that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you, so let me put it in context: among all 35-plus reception seasons by running backs since 2000, the average Reception NEP per target (a measure of efficiency) has been 0.33. Chris Johnson is only about 70% as effective catching the football as an average 35-plus reception running back.
4. The offensive line situation isn’t much different.
Don't assume that Johnson's lack of efficiency was all offensive line-driven, considering Shonn Greene, who ran behind the same unit last year, ended the season with a much higher per rush NEP score than Johnson did. And it's not getting much better in New York: According to Football Outsiders, the Titans run blocking ability actually ranked two spots ahead of the Jets last year (19th vs. 21st). It's not as though he's entering a run blocking situation to die for.
5. The passing attack is questionable.
The Jets have a new quarterback in Michael Vick, and while he's clearly an upgrade over Geno Smith, let's not jump to the conclusion that the Jets passing attack will be much better than what the Titans have had over the past few seasons. In fact, when you adjust the Titans Passing NEP for strength of schedule, the team finished 13th in the league in 2013 in efficiency. They were 26th in 2012, 17th in 2011 and 20th in 2010, too. No, those rankings aren't favorable, but it's not as though Michael Vick - a quarterback who's barely played above expectation over the last two seasons - is all of a sudden going to make the Jets a top-10 passing unit. The attack will struggle, especially given the team's lack of weapons.
Oh, and did I mention that Chris Johnson will be 29 years old in September?