On Nov. 16, 2009, we published the Chris Johnson for first pick 2010 manifesto. That was pre-Thanksgiving and the Titans superstar running back had barely passed the mid-point of his assault on NFL defenses. He had 1,156 more total yards and 208 touches ahead of him in 2009.
That sounds insane, right? It is. Dude finished with 408 total touches (358 rushes) and more than 2,500 all-purpose yards. The perfromance left no doubt that a manifesto was not necessary. But it was also a lot of work for our 2010 fantasy football holy grail, especially one who had just 294 touches the year before.
So, should we be scared? Yes. And maybe not.
The fact that Johnson saw such an enormous increase in work (118 more touches in just one year) should be a bit alarming. The fact he was so strong down the stretch — in five of the seven games after the manifesto he had at least 27 carries — should scare away any fears we had about the diminutive back’s durability.
But most human bodies can only handle so much work, regardless of age, size or health.
The rule of 370
While the hokey rule of 370 doesn’t quite apply in this case, it is worth noting. The rule of 370 states that a running back with 370 carries or more in one season sees a significant decline the following season. Michael Turner proved it true in 2008, LaDanian Tomlinson proved it in 2007 and Larry Johnson proved it true in 2006.
That rule doesn’t quite fit in 2010 because Johnson only had 358 carries. But the total is only 12 away from that hated arbitrary number, and Johnson put plenty more miles on his legs in the passing game. Ask LT if that extra mileage adds up.
What about 400 touches?
Johnson had more than 400 touches in 2010. Like the 370, the number seems arbitrary, but there are several other backs who reached that workload milestone in recent seasons and the follow-up seasons were not good.
It hasn’t been done since 2006, when three different backs — Johnson, Tomlinson and Steven Jackson — carried whole teams on their backs. Of those RBs, only LT played a full slate the following year and he has declined sharply since that 2007 season.
LJ, who had 416 carries and 41 catches, has been a shell of his former self and Jackson only last season finally returned more to form after missing four games in both 2007 and 2008. LJ will be 31 in November and LT will be 31 at the end of June. Jackson’s comeback shouldn’t come as much of surprise because he is the young pup of the bunch. He will be 27 in July.
In 2005, two backs reached 400 touches — Edgerrin James and Tiki Barber.
James followed up his 1,800-total yard, 14-TD season with almost 500 less total yards and eight fewer TDs as he shared carries with Joseph Addai. Barber, the lone outlier of the bunch, followed up a 411-touch, 2,390-total yard behemoth of a season with another over 2,000 (2,127 to be exact). He did have fewer TDs, but blame that on Brandon Jacobs, not Barber.
It’s fitting that we find ourselves talking about Barber. Of all the backs studied researching this argument, Johnson can be compared most easily to Barber — a speed back who, after correcting a severe case of fumbilitis that Johnson never had to worry about, used to earn chunks and chunks of yards as the cornerstone of his team.
Johnson is 5-11, 200 pounds. Barber, in 2006, was 5-10, 205. Most importantly, Johnson shares another trait with the former Giants back — the ability to avoid skull-crushing hits.
Let’s hope we can make one more comparison — the one where both backs follow up a backbreaking season with another display of fantasy supremacy.
What do you think? Is the workload a problem for Johnson? Do you believe he will play a full 16 games? Let us know in the comments.