July 24, 2011
In terms of size, speed and overall skill set Jamaal Charles(notes) and Chris Johnson are eerily similar. Both are slight of build. Both are incredibly explosive. Both drive prospective owners wild. Though equals in eyes of many, according to Y! docs Brad Evans and Brandon Funston, the dynamic backs are world's apart. Who do you like more? Read. Ponder. Then determine a winner below.
Evans opens: The snapshot above is exemplary of Charles' season as a whole. Feeble pursuers routinely swallowed chunks of dirt and dust attempting to catch up to the electric rusher.
Taking a step forward in production, Charles averaged a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry — second only to Jim Brown's 1963 campaign all-time — netting 121 total yards per game. He also splashed the invisible pool eight times. His 15.1 points per game average ranked fifth among RBs. Totaling just 275 touches, he was extraordinarily efficient. Most importantly, unlike Arian Foster(notes) and Peyton Hillis(notes), he was arguably the most clutch RB for the second-straight year, twice eclipsing the 20-point mark during the fantasy playoffs. When many backs wear down late, the JC of KC only gets stronger. Selected on average one pick behind Johnson in early drafts, he has gained a religious following.
Yes, veteran poacher Thomas Jones(notes) is expected to be retained by the Chiefs, possibly stymieing Charles' production occasionally. But after TJ slowed down the stretch last year, it became apparent Todd Haley wants the junior back, despite his svelte build, to be the primary carrier moving forward. It's likely he will finally surpass 300 touches this year. Running behind an above average offensive line and a key component in a competent passing attack, he has excellent odds of reaching 2,000 total yards with 9-13 TDs.
It's indisputable Johnson is Charles' equal in terms of pure talent. However, with a rookie QB possibly manning the controls, stacked boxes will be the norm. More worrisome, whispers out of Nashville suggest rookie Jamie Harper(notes) could be deployed like LenDale White(notes) was a couple seasons ago, potentially vulturing a handful of TDs away from Captain Quick. Recall last year Johnson splashed pay-dirt five times from inside the five. Toss in a possible long, ugly holdout, and the three-time Pro Bowler isn't without risk.
Funston counters: If Chris Johnson winds up holding out, I'll concede this argument. But, no matter how contentious things look in the summer, very rarely do we see a player of Johnson's ilk — arguably the most talented running back in the league — miss actual games. My money is on Johnson getting paid — he's too important to a Titans team that may very well be starting a rookie quarterback.
Whether Jake Locker(notes) or someone else is behind center, odds are pretty good that the Titans will struggle to pose a threat in the passing game. But, let's get something straight. That only means that Johnson will once again be the center of Tennessee's offensive universe. The whole "defenses will stack the box" argument doesn't really hold water when you consider that Johnson has averaged more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 14 TDs the past two seasons behind passing offenses that ranked no higher than 23rd in the league. So, assuming that Johnson plays a full schedule, I'll also be banking on him to once again be among the touches leaders — he's averaged more than 380 touches the past two seasons.
Another argument to be made against Johnson is that he may lose some goal-line carries. But Johnson has proven adept (slippery) at running between the tackles despite his slight frame, and the talk of someone supplanting him near the end zone could very well end up being much ado about nothing. But, even if he does lose some goal line work, head coach Mike Munchak sounds like he has designs to let Johnson make up the production in the passing game. Said Munchak, "I think you'll see more plays to Chris where if you need a screen, all it is is a run. You can run those on first down, it doesn't have to be third down. You can run those on any down. They are something that just gets him going around the edges." Johnson had 50 catches for 503 yards in '09, so he's capable of making a dramatic impact in that fashion.
The argument against Charles is that he's simply a lesser-utilized version of Johnson. KC head coach Todd Haley does plan to let Charles take the lead role over Thomas Jones in the Chiefs platoon. But if you've written Jones off for something well short of 200 carries, you're fooling yourself. KC was the top rushing offense in the league last season and you can bet that Haley firmly believes that a big part of that was keeping Charles fresh and letting Jones deal with the grunt work (including goal-line carries and milkman role when KC is holding a late lead).
Johnson also has a big schedule advantage compared to Charles, based on '10 numbers. According to those numbers, Johnson has the third-easiest strength of schedule, while Charles clocks in at 20th — and Charles will face PIT, CHI, NYJ and GB in crucial weeks 12-15.
To be honest, I don't think you can make a wrong choice with either running back, but Johnson's workload and schedule pushes his ceiling higher.
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