Much of the Jets focus this off-season has been finding ways to surround Geno Smith (and now, Mike Vick) with playmakers for the passing game.
But in a switch of thought process, the last few weeks of rumors have surrounded not a wide receiver or tight end, but a running back.
That RB is former Tennessee Titans speedster, Chris Johnson.
Once nicknamed CJ2K because of one 2000-yard season on the ground, Johnson was seen as an elite playmaker who could break any play for a touchdown.
Indeed, in that wonderous 2009 season, it was fact. He totaled 2,509 yards with 16 combined touchtowns. He had 22 runs over 20 yards, almost doubling up the next guy on the list (Adrian Peterson with 12). He also had the most yards per carry (over 300 attempts) in the league (5.6), a full yard better than #2 (Maurice Jones-Drew).
But he immediately dipped the next year, gaining only 1,364 yards. His measley 4.3 y/a was nothing special, falling behind on the league leaderboard such players as Chris Ivory (5.2) and Mike Goodson (4.4).
He has done little to really turn around his diminishing returns since that year. He has never gone above 4.5 yards per carry in the last 3 seasons. His rushing TD total of the past 3 seasons (16) barely outdoes his 2009 season (14).
As a guy the Jets will be bringing in to join the previously listed two and Bilal Powell, many think he will be able to bring a big-play burst that will help a team without many others who could do so.
But if you look at his most recent season, signs point to that idea being one of the past.
His best rush of the 2013 season, a 30 yard gain for a touchdown against the Colts, was only the 33rd biggest run of his career. His next biggest run of the season does not even fall into his 50 longest runs of his career (24 yards against the Rams).
Even reaching back another year to 2012, only 8 of his 50 biggest runs came in that season.
So is his big play ability gone? Much blame should go to the Titans offensive line. A mixture of the loss of a great first step and a failure of the OL, Titans RBs absorbed their first hit further behind the line per play than those on most other teams in the NFL. While the Jets do not have the OL of their glory days of the oughts, they sure are better than that.
Another common thought is fewer rushes will help CJ. Only problem is, he has been getting less attempts – 262, 276, and 279 the last 3 seasons. While that number should dip even lower, possibly helping him, there is the question as to his attitude and willingness to share a much smaller percentage of the load than he is used to.
Even with all these numbers, this should be a move the Jets can make.
With Maurice Jones-Drew getting only a 3-year deal for 7.5 million and no future money guaranteed, the running back market is as soft as ever. Chris Johnson should not be able to ask for much more than that and may even settle for a 1-year “show-me” contract at a higher mark.
With GM John Idzik being overly stingy this offseason with one of the largest shares of cap room in the league, he should be able to recognize that talent this strong will be hard to find elsewhere.
Whether or not Johnson has lost that first step, he will provide a change of pace for the Jets unlike they have seen since their playoff runs with LT and Shonn Greene (with Ivory playing the role of a much better Greene). Coming from an offense using Greene in 2013, CJ should instantly be boosted by playing with a guy who can actually break tackles and beat up defenses on the second level before he gets into the game.
He may not be a large improvement over Mike Goodson, who he should be replacing as the backup, questions about Goodson’s injury and future in court that shortened his ’13 season surely puts Johnson ahead of him on the Jets depth chart. There is little question he would fill the role better than the surprising-in-2013 Powell.
And even though Ivory showed the stuff of a #1 RB last season, he crushed his career bests in games played, attempts, and yards (outdoing Johnson in rushes over 20+ yards). Impressive, but also indicitive of a lack of past full season success.
Like many with the Jets, most are hopeful the best of what we have seen with Ivory will continue into 2014, but having an insurance policy who can do his part to keep him healthy can only help the Jets.
There won’t be many more who can play this role like Chris Johnson will. Now will the Jets be able to talk him (and themselves) into making this good match a reality?