Titans Rebuild: Chris Johnson’s Fantasy Stock Report

In 2011, Chris Johnson will have a new Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, and QB while playing for an offense that ranked 27th overall in the league a season ago -Yikes. With so many red flags and uncertainty surrounding one player/team, and the fact that he is coming off what many consider an “Off” year, the question is:

Should Chris Johnson be considered an elite fantasy prospect worthy of a top pick, or does he fall a bit on most fantasy draft charts because of his circumstances?

In 2010, Johnson finished fourth in the NFL with 1,364 rushing yards and added 11 touchdowns on the ground. A solid season by most standards, but those who spent a #1 or #2 overall pick on him weren’t overly satisfied with the output. Most expected a repeat performance of his record breaking ’09 campaign where he became only the sixth man in NFL history to surpass the 2,000 yard rushing mark while setting the record for yards-from-scrimmage at 2,509. Johnson immediately shot to fantasy football stardom as he carried owners across the globe to championship gold. CJ2K was born.

During the off-season last year, Johnson boasted that he was going to rush for 2,500 yards in 2010. Most people agreed that if anyone was capable of accomplishing that milestone, it was Johnson. Those who spent a top pick on C.J. were confident they made the right choice after his 27 carries for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns in Week 1 against Oakland. Little did they know that this would be Johnson’s best performance of the season. Owners watched all year long as Johnson put up inconsistent numbers from week to week. His Week 1 outburst was followed up by a 34 yard, zero TD dud against Pittsburgh in Week 2, then he exploded the following week for 125 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Giants. A sign of things to come.

Chris Johnson rushed for over one hundred yards in back to back games three times in 2010, but could never get the motor fully running as he did in 2009.

2010 is a season that the Tennessee Titans as an organization would much rather forget. Along with Chris Johnson’s inconsistency at running the ball, the Titans struggled overall as a team on their way to a 6-10 record. They finished 27th overall on offense and were dead last in time of possession. Vince Young will remember 2010 as the year of the “meltdown”. After his well publicized outburst and war of words with Head Coach Jeff Fisher and eventual dismissal from the team, Young missed the final six games of the season. V.Y. has most likely seen his last days as quarterback for the Titans.

To make matters worse, for the first time in 16 years someone different will be calling the shots for Tennessee. Jeff Fisher, the NFL’s longest tenured coach, stepped down this off-season and the Titans hired offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Munchak is a Hall of Fame guard who played for the franchise when they were the Houston Oilers. In his 14 seasons as offensive line coach, Munchak has helped 5 different running backs to total 11 1,000 yard rushing seasons. The transition from Fisher to Munchak should be a smooth one and Johnson could be the guy to benefit most.

The question mark for the Titans will be at the quarterback position. If teams are able to stack the box because there is no threat of the QB beating them, Johnson will see just as many eight man fronts as he did a season ago. We all know C.J. is capable of breaking off big runs against any defense and most fantasy owners put high value in the fact that he will definitely get the opportunity as a true #1 back. Javon Ringer showed he has some talent and might see an expanded role, but C.J. should still see up to 350 touches this season. Another factor to consider when evaluating a player’s rank is schedule. The official schedule hasn’t come out as of this writing, but the ’11 opponents were released earlier this year. Take a look at some of the run defenses and their ranks from last season that Johnson will face this upcoming season:

Home: Away:
Ind (25th) Ind
Hou (13th) Hou
Jax (22nd) Jax
Cin (19th) Pit (1st)
TB (28th) Car (23rd)
BAL (2nd) Cle (27th)
NO (16th) Atl (10th)
DEN (31st) Buf (32nd)

“Matchups win Championships” is the sign a good friend of mine gave me a few years back that now hangs in the office I write from.

If I’m looking at the defenses that C.J. has to face week to week I’m thrilled. Obviously you throw out the 2 games against BAL and PIT because NOBODY runs on those teams, but the remaining 14 games look like great matchups. Michael Roos and David Stewart are two outstanding tackles; yet the interior line has question marks at the left guard and the center position. Jake Scott is a veteran who should return and bring stability and Leroy Harris looked decent at times but the Titans might want to try and land a solid lineman in the draft. They currently hold the #8 pick and they don’t seem to have a chance to get Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert. Defense is a major concern for the Titans as well. Von Miller would be a great fit for that Titan defense who just brought in new defensive coordinator Gary Gray from Buffalo. Whichever direction the Titans go we should consider this upcoming season a “rebuilding” year. With so many changes going on within an organization it makes it that much more difficult to put a value on a player, even if it is Chris Johnson.
So to answer the question first posed in the beginning of this article, “Should Chris Johnson be considered an elite fantasy prospect worthy of a top pick, or does he fall a bit on most draft charts because of his circumstances?”
The answer is: Yes and Yes. Chris Johnson should be considered an elite fantasy back right up there with A.P., Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, and Lesean McCoy, and he will fall in some drafts because owners will feel more confident going with a safer pick such as a top tier QB or an elite WR. Regardless of where he is taken, Johnson is still a fantasy difference maker who you can build a championship team around.

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