BGA: Scouting Chris Johnson

Bent, TheJetsBlog.com

Yesterday, the Jets announced that they had signed running back Chris Johnson to a two-year deal. Johnson is a well-known player with whom most NFL fans will be familiar. However, it’s still worth looking at recent footage to try and get an insight into what Johnson has left in the tank and what he could bring to the table.

Johnson is a 28-year old former first round pick who has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his six seasons in the NFL (all with the Tennessee Titans). He’s a three time pro-bowler and was an all-pro in 2009 when he became just the sixth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season. Johnson has also caught 272 passes and scored a total of 58 touchdowns in his NFL career.

After the jump, I’ll be reviewing his career so far and looking at footage from last year to try and assess some of his strengths and weaknesses.

Who is Chris Johnson?

The 5’11” 203-pound Johnson wasn’t a highly touted collegiate player as he was better known for his kick returning abilities until his senior year when he broke out with a 1,400 yard season. However, his 4.24 forty yard dash at the 2008 scouting combine definitely turned heads. Still, it was a surprise when the Titans selected him 24th in the draft, but many experts were left eating their words when he rushed for over 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie, leading them to the postseason.

In 2009, Johnson had an incredible season, rushing for over 2,000 yards at an average of 5.6 per carry and setting an NFL record for yards from scrimmage in a season. While he hasn’t approached those kind of numbers since then, Johnson has still rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the past four seasons and hasn’t missed a game in his entire six-year career. In 2013, he had career lows in yards per carry and yards from scrimmage, but it emerged after the season that he’d played most of the season with a torn meniscus in his knee. He still managed to rush for 1,077 yards and scored a total of 10 touchdowns.

Let’s look at Johnson’s numbers, then review what he brings to the table.

The Numbers

Six seasons
96 games
1,742 carries, 7.965 yards, 50 touchdowns (4.6 ypc)
272 catches, 2,003 yards, eight touchdowns
78% catch rate (including preseason games)
18 career fumbles (13 lost)
240 broken tackles, including 39 as a receiver
11 penalties committed
68 20+ yard runs
18 40+ yard runs
Seven sacks, seven hits and 41 hurries surrendered in 576 pass block snaps

Here are my observations based on watching footage in detail from the 2013 season:

Usage - The first thing to note is that Johnson plays all three downs. The Titans would sometimes spell him for a series here and there, but there were three games where he missed less than 10 snaps overall (including one where he missed just two). In 2012 there had been five games where he missed five or fewer snaps. This, when coupled with the fact that he didn’t miss any games yet in his career, and also that he was playing hurt last year, shows some impressive durability.

In terms of how he was used, Johnson was a tailback most of the time, as you’d expect. However, when the Titans would go five wide, he’d stay in the game and usually line up out wide. He had 50 snaps as a receiver out wide and a handful in the slot.

Running Ability – Johnson’s track record speaks for itself, but the biggest question mark surrounding his move to the Jets is whether he’s losing some of that breakaway ability that made his so productive in his early years. The numbers don’t look great, with a yards per carry average of less than four for the first time in his career in 2013 and a long run of just 30 yards.

However, Johnson was still pretty dynamic in the open field; The Titans just struggled to get him into those situations very often. As evidence that he can still be a “home run hitter” I submit this 58-yard touchdown run from preseason:

…and this spectacular 66-yard catch and run from the regular season:

In addition, in 2012, Johnson broke three runs of 80 yards or longer, without which his yards per carry average would have been just 3.6 yards per carry, so in 2013 he was arguably more consistent in terms of picking up yardage.

There were some encouraging performances from midseason onwards that suggest Johnson still has some gas in the tank. Against the Rams, he broke several long runs on his way to 150 yards and two scores and it’s also encouraging that he had one of his better games (127 yards and two scores) on the final day of the season. All told, Johnson averaged 4.2 yards per carry over the last 10 games. There was also a game against the Colts on Thursday night football where he ran for 70 yards and two scores in the first quarter (on eight carries) but then only managed 14 more yards on nine carries and a catch the rest of the way.

When at his best, Johnson has tremendous acceleration and makes good reads and sharp cuts. He also isn’t afraid to lower his head to fight for tough yardage, especially near the goal line. However, at this stage of his career, it does seem like he needs a few extra inches of daylight to get up to speed.

Pass Protection – Since he plays every down, Johnson is obviously called upon to pass protect quite a lot. It’s important that he’s comfortable in that role and his pass protection numbers are not too bad. However, I’d definitely stop short of calling him any kind of specialist in that role and would question how much of an upgrade he’d be over the inconsistent Bilal Powell or the improving Chris Ivory in pass protection.

Johnson did make several missteps as a pass blocker and was more often than not used as a safety valve instead. On a couple of plays, he seemed a bit tentative when picking up the blitz, although maybe that was connected to him not having complete confidence in his bothersome knee.

Receiving Threat - Johnson has always been a productive receiver, so he does have that ability which is certainly something Marty Mornhinweg offenses have looked to exploit in the past. We know that Mornhinweg strives to get his playmakers the ball in space, so that could be a good way of extra getting production out of Johnson. Johnson was one of the league leaders in yards after the catch last season, but his YAC per catch was higher than his overall yards per catch average which tells you that he was catching a lot of passes behind the line of scrimmage.

Despite his good numbers, Johnson is somewhat limited as a weapon in the passing game. In the past two seasons, he has caught just one pass more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, on this play where he was covered in the flat but broke off downfield on an improvised route as the quarterback bought some time. As you’d imagine, basically all of his production comes from screen passes and underneath dump-offs. However, as LaDainian Tomlinson showed in 2010, you can add an extra dimension to the offense (and help a young quarterback have some easy success to develop rhythm) just by doing that – and this is an area where Powell and Ivory have struggled to contribute.

Hands - With so many dump-off passes, it’s not surprising that Johnson has a high catch rate and not too many drops. He dropped four passes last year and three the year before that. It was poor concentration that was to blame for most of these, as he does look comfortable catching these easy passes most of the time. I didn’t find any examples of him making tough catches, but then again he wasn’t called upon to do so.

Fumbles – Johnson’s fumble rate isn’t too bad. He had three last season, two as the ball was punched out as he hit the hole and one on a freak play where he got trapped in the backfield and tried to reverse his field and got nailed from behind. There were also one or two fumbled hand-offs which were attributed to the quarterback.

Short Yardage – Johnson isn’t a power back, but does still have some success in short yardage situations, usually on the kind of one-cut zone plays that Mornhinweg also uses. As noted, though, he will fight and drive for extra yardage at times.

Special Teams – Johnson does not play on special teams. Despite being a good return man in college, he has had just one kick return for 17 yards and that was in his rookie season.

Instincts – Johnson shows good instincts as a runner and in downfield blocking situations, although there will be times where he has nowhere to go and dances around behind the line looking for a gap to emerge rather than just falling into the line to take what the defense gives him. The touchdown reception linked to above was a good veteran play showing good instincts in the passing game, but we didn’t see much more of that kind of thing.

Attitude – There are some questions over Johnson’s attitude although he has been saying all the right things since arriving. He held out over money and griped over his touches in the past, which could be an issue considering part of his contract is made up of yardage incentives. Other sources have queried his effort and said that he looks out for the big play, occasionally to the detriment of the overall gameplan, but who knows how accurate these reports are? From the footage, he seems like a popular teammate who gets fired up about making plays to help the team.

Injuries – As noted, Johnson hasn’t missed a game yet in his NFL career, but does have major red flags over the condition of his knee. Still, he passed physicals with both the Jets and Titans and finished the 2013 season on a high, so hopefully that’s something that won’t hold him back come September.

You can’t help thinking back to Curtis Martin, who gutted the way through the 2005 season with a knee injury and was on course for 1,000 yards or thereabouts when they shut him down with four games to go. In 2006, Martin wasn’t ready in time for camp and was forced to retire. Sometimes, when running backs start to have issues, the downfall is swift and sudden. Martin was five years older than Johnson is now in 2006 though.

Conclusions

Johnson is a big name and while there may be fears over how much longer (if at all) he can perform at an elite level, the Jets are getting him on a reasonable level contract and won’t be entirely reliant on him to carry the load.

From the footage, I was encouraged to see that Johnson still has the burst and open-field quickness he has relied upon to become one of the league’s better backs. While he didn’t break as many long gains, he does still possess the ability to get out to the second level and is dangerous when he does that.

Marty Mornhinweg’s offense does require backs who can produce in the passing game and protect the quarterback and while I’ve said that Johnson might not be all he’s advertised to be in those areas, his experience and competence in either role is valuable.

While Johnson will compete for a role and most likely end up splitting carries with Chris Ivory, the obvious comparison to look at is Tomlinson, who joined the Jets coming off a career-worst year and rejuvenated his career (improving his yards per carry average from 3.3 in his final season with the Chargers to 4.2 with the Jets). While the offensive line took a lot of the credit for that, this was the year where Matt Slauson was a first year starter and Damien Woody went down injured to be replaced by Wayne Hunter, so they were hardly at their best. I’d instead attribute Tomlinson’s success to the fact he had a reduced workload and was able to remain fresh much deeper into the season. That’s something that could benefit Johnson too.

In terms of whether Johnson will benefit from the Jets offensive line being better than the Titans were last year, I wouldn’t automatically assume that to be the case. The Titans are not a bad run blocking team and I’d put last year’s Jets team on about the same level. However, if the Jets can get improved play from the left guard position, their line should improve substantially this year and that will give Johnson a good chance to have some success.

We’ll return to looking at some of the players the Jets have added to the active roster since the end of the season with a look at defensive lineman TJ Barnes in a few days…




73 comments
Bytor
Bytor

The second gif makes me all mushy inside. I'm looking forward to MM drawing up these plays.

NYCPEinGermany
NYCPEinGermany

Great job, Bent. Ever think of changing the name of these off-season pieces to BPA (Bent's Player Analysis)?

Pat d
Pat d

Thanks Bent

This is one BGA that I have been looking forward to reading for about a week

now.

In 3 weeks lets have a draft that rivals the 1974 Steelers draft.

jma020
jma020

Gonna share a fanspeak mock I just did that would make me cry of joy if it turned out this way

1-  Beckham
2-  CJ MOsely

3-  ASJ

4- Marcus Smith

4- Seastrunck

4- Rashad Reynolds


bradysucks
bradysucks

round 1 Brandin Cooks  WR

round 2 Jace Amaro   TE

 round 3 Jarvis Landry WR

 round 4 Jeremy Hill  RB

 round 4 Chris Watt G

 round 4 Terrance Mitchell CB

Off topic, but thoughts on this mock draft? (did it on the fanspeak simulator...Barr dropping that far seems unlikely, but it happened in the simulation):

Rd. 1

18 OLB ANTHONY BARR UCLA


Rd. 2

49 TE JACE AMARO TEXAS TECH


Rd. 3

80 WR PAUL RICHARDSON COLORADO


Rd. 4

104 CB MARCUS ROBERSON FLORIDA

115 WR CODY LATIMER INDIANA 

137 RB DRI ARCHER KENT STATE


Rd. 5

154 G CHRIS WATT NOTRE DAME


Rd. 6

195 CB DONTAE JOHNSON NORTH CAROLINA STATE 

209 OT JUSTIN BRITT MISSOURI 

210 DE CASSIUS MARSH UCLA 

213 S ISAIAH LEWIS MICHIGAN STATE


Rd. 7

233 TE COLT LYERLA OREGON

kniff
kniff

It feels great to have our RB corps at this increased capacity...and as Bent said we need to keep our eyes on the LG position, and possibly add camp cut depth to insure our investment in Winters.

Brendan
Brendan

Thanks, Bent. Great stuff. 

Brendan
Brendan

@Gilbert Hernandez  Wouldn't be mad. Mack with that DL group would poop a lot of pants in QBland. 

jma020
jma020

   Just went
18-->  Justin Gilbert

49-->  David Yankey

80 -->  Allen Robinson

104-->  Marcus Smith

115-->  Lache Seastrunck
137--> Xavier Grimble

154-->  Mike Davis

juunit
juunit

No Colt Lyerla. He quit on his team, is a cokehead and thinks the Newtown shooting was a government conspiracy. 

kniff
kniff

Not taking a guard until the 5th bothers me... but love Amaro at our 2nd pick.

Pat d
Pat d

Regarding the first 3 rounds, that would be a good draft.

Brendan
Brendan

 That is a very interesting draft. I kind of love it, to be honest, and I'm not even a huge Amaro fan. 

jma020
jma020

@kniff  David Yankey, Gabe Jackson, Marcus Martin, Weston Richburg.   Would love to add one of these guys to push Winters and eventually replace Colon.

Andrew Wilshire
Andrew Wilshire

bent - great write up. I slightly more hopeful/optimistic.

The draft is clearly on peoples mind

maynard
maynard

@Brendan Had a conversation today on NFL network today with Pat Kirwin and Jim Miller regarding Jet needs . He agreed with me that with the addition of Johnson to pair with Ivory, and  Decker& Kerly  as top two receivers, that their first pick should be a TE with another WR in later rounds, under the premise that giving a young QB like Geno with a run heavy offense and a back who has averaged 40+ receptions a year might be too much firepower for him to handle. I actually like the Georgia TE in a later rd  , he's a blocking TE who can catch  and with our run heavy offense would be a great fit. Also then if not a TE or WR in 1st rd do we go sure thing OL? what do you think?


Brendan
Brendan

@juunit  The first two I could live with, the third thing I can't. 

Pat d
Pat d

kniff

That is a very good point.

I usually only judge the first two rounds of a mock draft because after that it seems pointless to me. Too many variables. I did include 3 rounds here though.

That said I do have concern with O-line. Good point.

@kniff  I was feeling that way as I was drafting, but it just turned out that my favorite pick at each spot didn't turn out to be Oline until the 5th.  Would've likely been different if the simulator came out differently.

jma020
jma020

@Brendan  Not such a fan of Barr.  I'm uneasy about his boom or bust potential.

Brendan
Brendan

@maynard I just hate any "they should pick ____" discussion unless you're talking about a top-3ish pick and a QB. 


At this point they can pick almost anything and I'll be happy. 


I think I'd be kind of shocked if they go OL in the first, but I wouldn't be pissed or anything. They have a lot of positions they could look at: ILB, OLB, S, CB, TE, WR are all on a list that I think could lead to a 1st round selection. ILB I'm thinking Mosley, only, just so you don't think I'm insane. 

juunit
juunit

@Brendan @juunit 

Wouldn't hurt the cap much, no. But if I'm a GM I wouldn't even want to force someone to be the guy's roommate in training camp.

I know you're not for him. He's pretty much definitely going undrafted. The real question will be if anyone even bothers to sign him as a UDFA. Nobody signed Peter Lalich last year after all. He might have to join Chad Johnson in Canada. 

Brendan
Brendan

@juunit Well, the 2013 233rd pick got $2.209 over four years, with a $48k signing bonus, but none of it is guaranteed after that. So, give the guy $50k and if he's a knucklehead you cut him with almost no ramifications. 


I'm not pining for this guy, btw, just talking about it generically for the pick in question. 

juunit
juunit

@Brendan @juunit 

If there was a way to defer his salary I might look into it. But giving him six figures will only lead to bad things. Soon as he got national attention he saw the money signs and was gone.

Brendan
Brendan

@juunit At that age I can live with the team quitting if it's only a low pick/UDFA type of thing. See if putting him in a situation where pro's will tear his head off if he acts entitled will sort him out. 

juunit
juunit

@Brendan @juunit 

Only one I could live with is the coke. But when you add it to the other stuff it's obvious he's not the functional cokehead LT or Irvin were. 

kniff
kniff

@kniffI believe Winters was a 5th rounder... I'm just looking for the next O line monster to enhance our existing situation...I have no names in mind, but would be satisfied with a 3rd rounder and/or a camp cut guy with something to offer.

Still think we missed the boat with Schwartz...

Pat d
Pat d

Most likely Barr will not be there at 18, but if he is it would be a good pick.

Brendan
Brendan

@jma020  But if he booms, it'll be like a fcking mushroom cloud. 

Vincent Winner
Vincent Winner

@Brendan @jma020  True, it's a bit early for that, but having a guy that could shift over to C if Mangold gets hurt and play it well  enough to get by would not be a bad thing either.

jma020
jma020

@Brendan @jma020  Yeah, he moves very well.  If headds some strength he should be a very good player.

Brendan
Brendan

@jma020 Yeah, strength is what I keep seeing pop up for Martin. But with a zone blocking scheme his quickness could be very useful. The beauty with selecting him is he probably won't have to start right away and can have a year to work on his strength and technique out of the spotlight. 

jma020
jma020

@Brendan  I've been watching film on he and weston richburg because I think they're both great value in round 3.  

Martin looks like he needs to get stronger.  Gets thrown around a bit in pass protection, but he's really quick off the snap and gets to the 2nd level very well.  Richburg is a monster, but doesn't move as well as Martin.

Brendan
Brendan

@jma020 But in all seriousness, I have been pretty intrigued by Martin. Long-time starter for a good program*, played multiple positions, was the team captain, All Pac-10 his senior year. 


Last I saw he was being considered an early-3rd, if that's still the case I'd be happy taking him if he slips to the Jets' pick in that round. 



* good in the sense it sends players to the NFL? Whatever. 

Brendan
Brendan

@jma020 THAT IS NOT A THING WE ARE TALKING ABOUT, JMA. 

Brendan
Brendan

@a57se Both of them have pretty extensive experience starting at guard in college. 


Edit: Martin has considerably more than Richburg, though.