Workhorse running backs may be endangered, but Chris Johnson and Trent Richardson are two rushers destined to keep the species alive. Though both are deserving of first round consideration, fanalysts Brad Evans and Brandon Funston believe there's a best horse to saddle up. Peruse. Ponder. And throw in your two cents in the comments section below. Also sign up for a Yahoo! league, cash or free, NOW!
Evans Leads: Everyone can admit last year was an abominable year for Johnson. The artist formerly known as CJ2K morphed into CJ2Lame, racking one demoralizing performance after another. Sizable holes rarely materialized. Hundred yard games were few. Touchdowns sparse. Arguably, the popular top-five pick was the biggest bust in virtual pigskin.
Don't expect a repeat.
Johnson is still relatively young (27), incredibly versatile — he grabbed 57 passes last year, the third-most among RBs — and insanely fast. Though he tended to stutter-step behind the line a season ago instead of attacking it, the former rush king is destined to again don a RB1 crown. Tennessee's offensive line, which received a much needed face-lift this past offseason with the addition of Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson, should be light years better than it was a year ago. That accompanied with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer's desire to incorporate more old school Run 'n Shoot-styled plays will bolster Johnson's scoring potential greatly, especially with Kenny Britt back in the fold and rookie Kendall Wright added to the mix.
And you know CJ is hungry.
This spring, Johnson has worked his tail off, motivated to regain his rightful place among the league's elite. Propaganda from Titans GM Ruston Webster:
"C.J. has looked great," Webster said. "Looks like he's added a little weight, looks strong, especially in his upper body. He's been here every day competing, working hard. He's been here some days when he hasn't had to be here. ... It's really good to see that commitment from him."
Richardson is a marvelous talent who, based on expected workload alone, deserves late first-round consideration in 12-team leagues. No doubt he could grind out 1,400 total yards with 8-11 touchdowns in his inaugural season. However, question marks surrounding the passing game along with the Browns' daunting division — keep in mind he'll play Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincy twice each — lowers the bar somewhat. Overall, the offensive environment simply isn't as friendly.
Both backs should have outstanding seasons, but the Noise plans to score Johnson on the rebound.
Funston Reacts: Let's start off by dispelling the notion that great fantasy running backs can't come from terrible offenses.
Last season, Maurice Jones-Drew was the No. 3 fantasy back despite playing in the worst offense in the league. In '10, Peyton Hillis was the No. 2 fantasy running back for the fourth-worst scoring offense. Marshawn Lynch went all Beast-Mode last year for the fifth-worst offense in the league, scoring a TD in 11 straight games. Frankly, It's not too hard to find examples of elite fantasy production from a running back on a bad team.
Then there's the silly idea that experience is so vital at the running back position. The running back position is arguably the easiest position on the field for a young player to assimilate. What matters most is talent and opportunity. If you have enough of both, you end up with rookie campaigns like Marshall Faulk (1,804 YFS, 12 TDs), Edgerrin James (2,139 YFS, 17 TDs), Adrian Peterson (1,609 YFS, 13 TDs), Clinton Portis (1,872 YFS, 17 TDs), Johnson (1,488 YFS, 10 TDs) et al.
The Browns have already confirmed that Richardson will be their featured back. There's a reason why so many teams showed an interest in trading up for the No. 3 pick in the draft to land him. He's regarded as the best RB prospect to enter the league since Peterson. He's got the complete package of skills and the fire-hydrant stoutness to compete with backs like Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Jones-Drew for the NFL lead in touches in '12.
Johnson was the No. 16 fantasy running back last year, a colossal bust no matter how you slice his season. He rushed for more than 64 yards just four times. He averaged 49 rushing yards and failed to score a TD in the final four weeks of the season. I was a Johnson owner last season and, frankly, I'm not eager to hop aboard that train again. I'd much prefer to see what this Brown can do for me.
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