Just 5 years ago, fantasy football players with the first pick across the country had to make a very difficult decision: Do I select Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson. Peterson was coming off an 18 touchdown season, the most in his young career, while also breaking the 1,300 yard barrier for the third consecutive season. Johnson, however, was coming off a season that just 5 runningbacks in NFL history had accomplished before him: Rush for 2000 yards in a season. And not only did Johnson break that barrier (2006 yards, to be exact), but Johnson also caught 50 balls for 503 yards, breaking the NFL record for most yards from scrimmage in a season. CJ2K’s 2009 season is considered by some to be the greatest season in NFL history. However, regression was to be expected, as no runningback ever has ran for 2000 yards in back to back seasons, let alone 2000 yards again. Thus the argument for Peterson vs. Johnson. We all know what’s happened since then. Peterson had his own 2000 yard season just two years later while also placing his claim as possibly the best to ever do it at his position. Playoff appearances also followed for Peterson, as did an NFL MVP award the same season AP ran for 2097 yards. Johnson, on the other hand, quietly continued to produced, rushing for at least 1000 yards for 4 straight seasons after his 2000 yard season before heading to the Jets last season. And while Johnson didn’t receive the praise or playoff appearances that Peterson achieved, CJ2K still was a top 5 runningback in the league. But, after his “underwhelming” season in Gotham, Johnson is now seen as an afterthought to the casual fan. Perhaps even to the league, as Johnson was unsigned up until this week. Now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson is looking for another shot to prove he’s still CJ2K, which is certainly attainable.
If you were to describe Chris Johnson in one word, it would be fast. Not only does Johnson still own the record for the fastest 40 time in NFL Combine history, but Johnson also is the only player with SIX 80 yard touchdown runs in NFL history. Even if you watch his film from his 2014 season, you can still see his trademark speed on display, as Johnson was able to break off long gains when given an opportunity. Unfortunately for Johnson, opportunity wasn’t always available with the Jets last season. Coming off offseason microscopic knee surgery, CJ was forced into a timeshare with Chris Ivory in 2014, the first season of Johnson’s career in which he wasn’t the bell-cow back. With the fewest touches he’d received in his career, Johnson wasn’t able to break 1000 yards for the first time in his career. Looking back on the season, a lot of what occurred with Johnson wasn’t his fault. The Jets couldn’t decide on a quarterback, as Geno Smith was as porous as usual and Michael Vick was a shell of his former self. Granted, Johnson was used to abysmal quarterbacking from his days in Tennessee, but Tennessee usually had a half-decent offensive line in front of him. The same couldn’t be said for the 2014 Jets, as only center Nick Mangold had a season he would be proud of. The combination of poor quarterbacking and terrible blocking led defenses to stack the box against the Jets’ “offense”, which led to very few running lanes for both Johnson and Ivory. The coaching staff also didn’t do the best of jobs either, frequently using both Ivory & Johnson (and the whole offense, for that matter) out of position. For example, neither Johnson nor Ivory played very much on third down. Ivory, who is almost 230 pounds, was used as a pass catching back towards the end of last season even though Ivory had only caught 4 passes in his previous 3 seasons. A change of scenery was needed for Johnson, and he was expected to be signed fairly early in free agency. However, in mid March, Johnson was shot in the shoulder in his native Orlando. The shooting took the live of close friend Dreekius Johnson, the driver of the vehicle Chris was riding in. Teams distanced themselves from Johnson, as players deemed as character risks are avoided in today’s NFL. Some wondered if Johnson’s pro career was over. Finally, after 5 months of waiting, Johnson was signed by the Arizona Cardinals this week for the veteran minimum. And while voices in the organization may say Johnson is battling for a roster spot, Johnson will soon have much more than a roster spot.
In the rare moments when he had a favorable opportunity in front of him, Johnson capitzalized. Johnson broke off a 35 yard touchdown, his only rushing touchdown of the season, against the Lions. On that play, Johnson found the hole in the line, exploded through it, broke a tackle and ran in for the score. In the Monday Night game against Miami, his only 100 yard game of the season, Johnson had a sidewinder run in which he saw the crease on the right side of the line, broke a tackle, then cut across the field, juking out a couple defenders in the process while breaking off a 47 yard run. And against Tennessee, his former team, Johnson lined up as the Wildcat QB and broke off another long gain. Johnson still has his speed, and he has added some power along the way as well. Johnson actually broke the 5th most tackles in the league last season, a trait many don’t give him much credit for. Johnson still looks every bit the franchise back Tennessee thought he was when he received the largest contract for a runningback at the time in 2011. And as usually happens when you get a large sum of money, people take shots at you, most of them unneccesary. Members of the media are quick to call him a bad teammate, even though none of his teammates have said anything negative about him publically. Members of the media are also quick to call him uncoachable, even though he has had no issues with any of his previous coaches. Members of the media, as well as fans, like to say he fell off, even though if you extrapolate his numbers to even 250 carries, Johnson would have broken the 1,000 yard barrier for the 7th consecutive season. Everyone has taken their shots at CJ2K, but he continues to fight back and prove everyone wrong.
Now with the Cardinals, Johnson is hoping to prove everyone wrong again. Standing in Johnson’s way of the starting gig is Andre Ellington, a back many have compared to Johnson. However, unlike Johnson, Ellington has shown an inability to stay healthy, as he missed the last half of last season with a foot injury. Ellington is also slight in size and shouldn’t be expected to carry the load of an offense. Johnson may also have to spell time with another Johnson, rookie David Johnson of Northern Iowa. David Johnson was selected in the 3rd round of this years’s draft, but he has been unable to stay healthy in camp, dealing with a hamstring injury that has hamstrung him thus far in his young career. Chris Johnson has a very favorable situation in front of him. Not only does he have an offensive line in front of him that may be the best he’s played with since his 2009 season, but Johnson also has the best QB he’s ever had handing him the ball in Carson Palmer. Fueled by an offseason full of turmoil and a desire to return to the playoffs, somewhere he hasn’t been since his rookie season in 2008, Chris Johnson is primed to have a huge season and get back to being known as CJ2K again, even to the media.