The New York Jets, seemingly convinced they could infuse some excitement into their offense, have reportedly signed running back Chris Johnson to a two-year contract today. The move was expected after Johnson met the team earlier in the week, though some thought he would make some additional visits in free agency. It’s unclear if Johnson had other suitors out there, but it’s obvious his market was fairly cold as it took him around a week to even schedule a visit with any team.
The signing of Johnson has an impact in dynasty leagues, so let’s talk a look at the new running back landscape by reviewing some players whose values have changed as a result of Johnson landing in New York.
Chris Johnson, RB NYJ
Anyone who has played in a dynasty league long enough can remember the dynamic player Johnson proved to be early in his career. As a rookie in 2009, he showed the ability to break any play and take it to the house by averaging nearly five yards per carry for the Titans. In his sophomore campaign, he had one of fantasy football’s most prolific seasons as he ran for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging a mind numbing 5.6 yards per carry. When you tacked on another 50 catches for 503 yards and two more scores that season, you had a RB1 in dynasty leagues who was widely considered to be a realistic candidate for the 1.01 in start up drafts.
Unfortunately, that’s all in the past.
The Johnson we’ve seen since has simply not been the same player. Since his unbelievable 2010 season, he hasn’t been able to muster more than 1,364 rushing yards in a single season and that was way back in 2011. His yards per carry average has also dipped all the way down to a career-low 3.9 last year. Whether that’s due to his offensive line, his past contract status, a regression in athletic ability, him trying to make every play a big one or an unwillingness to hit the holes hard is anyone’s guess. In reality, it’s probably some of all that. However, it’s clear when you watch the player formerly known as CJ2K, he’s simply not the same – that part is pretty tough to argue.
In New York, Johnson gets the fresh start he really needed. He’ll most certainly split carries with Chris Ivory and should be the “lightning” to Ivory’s “thunder,” at least in theory. You could say his dynasty value has taken a sizable hit with this move, but that would be going with the assumption you felt he was going to be signed as someone’s featured back – that just wasn’t realistic in today’s NFL where veterans have a hard time getting much of anything in terms of contracts or promises. Johnson should have a chance to reclaim some of his confidence and make some plays. Believe it or not, the Jets were one of the best rushing teams in the NFL last season and he’ll get his chances, especially in the passing game. With an offense seemingly very vanilla, Johnson should give the Jets some freedom to be creative – just don’t expect him to be a 20-carry per game player any longer.
In the end, the health of Johnson (he underwent surgery for a torn meniscus this off-season) and Ivory (he’s never been the most durable) will likely be the big factors determining just how valuable Johnson is in dynasty leagues. What we’ve seen lately hasn’t been great for Johnson, but he’ll have a chance to prove to everyone it was a “Tennessee” problem, not a skills issue. However, he has a streak of six straight 1,000 yards seasons and it would be a shock if he made it seven.
Chris Ivory, RB NYJ
Ivory had a pretty good season last year as he rushed for a team-high 833 yards on 4.6 yards per carry for Gang Green. Ivory has caught a grand total of five passes in his career, so Johnson isn’t exactly going to destroy his third down value. You would expect Ivory to retain the early down and goal line work, but cede snaps in the passing game, third downs and a few series to Johnson each week. You could see a pretty healthy 50/50 split here coming, but again, this is anyone’s guess since they both have to stay healthy. If I was the one making that guess, I’d say the 182 carries Ivory had last season should be more than attainable.
With Ivory, you could also look at this move and say it really deteriorates his value, but you’d be making the assumption the Jets weren’t going to be bringing in competition through the draft or free agency and that Johnson is going to somehow take over in the backfield. It was never likely the Jets were going to stand pat and the thought of Johnson taking over and returning to 2009 form seems to be a pretty big wish.
Bilal Powell, RB NYJ
If there’s a loser in this deal, it’s probably Powell. His 176 carries and 36 catches from last season seem pretty unlikely to be duplicated. He’s certainly still roster worthy in deep leagues, but the idea he’s somehow the future in New York isn’t seeming to be too realistic. The Jets and Rex Ryan need to win and they’re going to give Johnson every chance to be successful, likely at the expense of Powell.
Geno Smith, QB NYJ
Adding weapons is never a bad thing and Smith really needs them. With Johnson, Eric Decker and hopefully some more help through the draft, Smith should be put in a better chance to be successful. If he’s not, we’ll see Michael Vick sooner, rather than later. The Jets brass have their jobs on the line and patience won’t exactly be their best virtue next year.
Shonn Greene, RB TEN
At this moment in time, Greene looks to be the featured back in Tennessee. Note I said at this point in time. Expect Tennessee to add another back, likely through the draft. Greene has proven to be serviceable, but the Titans will most certainly be in the market for an all-around playmaker to replace the dynamic they just lost in Johnson. If you have an owner who thinks otherwise and you own Greene, I’d be making a trade now.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK