June 22, 2009
Last year, rookie gems Steve Slaton and Chris Johnson electrified the fantasy masses with numerous fruitful performances. Their efforts have propelled them into the first round of 12-team drafts this year. But which AFC speed demon will prove more valuable? The Noise and Piano Man listen to their stethoscopes to provide a diagnosis.
Grossly overlooked in many drafts last summer, Slaton emerged from the deep rounds to be become one of fantasy's most dependable all-around backs. Entering the season, several scouts questioned whether he possessed the skill set and durability to perform as a featured back. Silencing the naysayers, he displayed excellent cut-back ability, game-breaking speed and eagle vision in Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme. In total he accumulated nine 100-plus total yard games and 10 end-zone splashes in 15 starts. Overall, he finished ninth among RBs in points per game (14.1), four spots ahead of Captain Quick (Johnson).
Hungry to prove he's not a one-year wonder, Slaton has added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason in the hopes of exceeding last year's touch total (318). Keep in mind the Texans were 5-0 in contests in which he toted the rock 20-plus times. With a year under his belt, he's also fully grasped the playbook and shown marked confidence in mini-camp.
Per ADP values, the difference between the two appears negligible. But because Johnson will cede several goal-line touches to chalk-eater LenDale White(notes), he will likely finish with roughly 2-4 fewer touchdowns than his backfield comparison. Understand last year Slaton dwarfed Johnson 66-29 in red-zone attempts. Also, Houston's passing attack is far superior, which means the Texans' rocket will see fewer stacked boxes, increasing his chances for long runs and goal-line dives.
Both are deserving of first round considration, but The Slasher is the more terrorizing force.
Piano Man retorts: From a fantasy perspective it was hard to differentiate between Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton(notes) last year. Both backs went for around 14 fantasy points per game as rookies, both runners did better work between the tackles than expected, both guys held up surprisingly well in the second half for undersized backs, and both freshmen hit their share of home runs on the perimeter (Johnson is the fastest back in the league; Slaton had four runs over 40 yards). So why is Johnson my play? It's all about reading the tea leaves since 2008 ended.
Although Slaton handled 318 touches without any problem, the Texans would like to take some of the short-yardage work away from him. Gary Kubiak has mentioned the possibility of Chris Brown being the No. 2 and specialist; while it's hard to take Brown seriously, it's clear what Kubiak has in mind. If the Texans can limit Slaton's wear and tear the second time around, they're going to do it - and that's likely to hurt in the TD column.
Johnson essentially matched Slaton on a points-per-game basis even as the Titans were farming the short-yardage work to LenDale White (15 TDs). Given the circus that's been White's career to this point, I find it hard to imagine another perfect storm where he scores that many times again; Johnson could easily add a few TDs to his rookie total of 10. I also feel better about Johnson's ball security (Slaton had a fumbling problem down the stretch) and the offensive line he's working behind. I'm not hatin' on Slaton, but CJ is my play.
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