Expectations for Chris Johnson, Part Four

In Part Three of this series we compared Chris Johnson’s first two seasons with those of other top backs and looked for the first time at yards from scrimmage.
 
CJ has gained 3,997 yards from scrimmage in his first two seasons, third best in NFL history. In this segment of the series, we’ll examine the careers of the 30 players with the most yards from scrimmage in their first two seasons.
 
The overall stats show that after peaking in year two, the average yards from scrimmage of the 30 players decreases every year. That does not mean, however, that CJ’s production is expected to decline. 

 
Yards from scrimmage, Top 30 RBs in first two seasons
Rank RB 1st 2 yrs Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Yr 4 Yr 5 Yr 6 Yr 7 Yr 8 Yr 9 Yr 10 Career
1 Eric Dickerson 4456 2212 2,244 1360 2026 1459 2036 1522  769  805  814 15,396
2 Edgerrin James 4442 2139 2303  855 1343 1551 2031 1843 1376 1426  599 15,610
3 Chris Johnson 3997 1488 2509  3,997
4 Billy Sims 3812 1924 1888 981 1459  926 0 0 0 0 0  7,178
5 Clinton Portis 3777 1872 1905 1550 1732  693 1651 1,705 551 11,659
6 LaDainian Tomlinson 3775 1603 2172 2370 1776 1832 2323 1949 1536 884 16,445
7 Ottis Anderson 3573 1913 1660 1763 693 1729 1785 704 374 22 265 13,335
8 Barry Sanders 3536 1,752 1784 1855 1577 1320 2166 1898 1700 2358 1780 18,190
9 Adrian Peterson 3494 1609 1885 1819  5,313
10 Jamal Lewis 3429 1660 1769 2271 1122 1097 1247 1552 1180 588 0 12,486
11 Marshall Faulk 3357 1804 1553 1015 1525 2227 2429 2189 2147 1490 1108 19,154
12 Terrell Davis 3332 1484 1848 2037 2225 237 286 770 0 0 0  8,887
13 Joe Cribbs 3300 1600 1700 732 1665 541 936 370 21 0 0  7,555
14 Earl Campbell 3289 1498 1791 1981 1532 668 1,517 495 731 0 0 10,213
15 Curtis Martin 3233 1748 1485 1456 1652 1723 1712 1833 1456 1570 1942 17,430
16 Herschel Walker 3180 1574 1606 2019 1338 1085 1029 1348 1356 1028 360 13,084
17 Domanick Williams 3158 1382 1776 1313 0 0 0 0 4,471
18 Matt Forte 3115 1715 1400 3,115
19 William Andrews 3096 1332 1764 2036 1076 2176 249 0 0 0 0 8,663
20 Gale Sayers 3052 1374 1678 1006 973 1148 46 38 0 0 0 6,263
21 Thurman Thomas 3002 1089 1913 1829 2038 2113 1702 1442 1225 1287 851 16,532
22 Eddie George 2993 1550 1443 1604 1762 1962 1218 1420 1194 515 0 12,668
23 Jerome Bettis 2991 1673 1318 743 1553 1775 1275 1201 1438 1120 723 15,111
24 Emmitt Smith 2986 1165 1821 2048 1900 1825 2148 1453 1308 1507 1516 21,579
25 Tony Dorsett 2983 1280 1703 1482 1448 1971 924 1608 1648 1756 1015 16,293
26 Frank Gore 2919 739 2180 1538 1409 1526 7,392
27 Abner Haynes 2850 1451 1399 1622 822 1259 382 784 446 0 0 8,165
28 Joseph Addai 2842 1406 1436 750 1164 4,756
29 Greg Bell 2836 1377 1459 519 182 1336 1222 171 0 0 0 6,266
30 Warrick Dunn 2810 1440 1370 1205 1555 1004 1304 1008 1400 1636 1310 15,306
Average 3321 1562 1759 1491 1390 1353 1265 1092 911 782 558 11,416
 
As you can see, the players’ best season for average yards from scrimmage was their second. After peaking in year two, their average production in yards from scrimmage declined in every subsequent season. However, as we noted in Part Two, the great running backs have been able to sustain top-level productivity as rushers while the others have not.
 
There is a not dissimilar trend in yards from scrimmage which is contained in the following table. The data for the Hall of Fame RBs in the table above is repeated here. While LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis are not yet in the Hall of Fame, there is little doubt in my mind they will be enshrined, most probably in their first year of eligibility. They are therefore included in this group.
 
Yards from scrimmage, Hall of Fame RBs in Top 30 in first two seasons
Rank RB 1st 2 yrs Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Yr 4 Yr 5 Yr 6 Yr 7 Yr 8 Yr 9 Yr 10 Career
1 Eric Dickerson 4456 2212 2244 1360 2026 1459 2036 1522 769 805 814 15,396
6 LaDainian Tomlinson 3775 1603 2172 2370 1776 1832 2323 1949 1536 884 16,445
8 Barry Sanders 3536 1752 1784 1855 1577 1320 2166 1898 1700 2358 1780 18,190
11 Marshall Faulk 3357 1804 1553 1015 1525 2227 2429 2189 2147 1490 1108 19,154
14 Earl Campbell 3289 1498 1791 1981 1532 668 1517 495 731 0 0 10,213
15 Curtis Martin 3233 1748 1485 1456 1652 1723 1712 1833 1456 1570 1942 17,430
20 Gale Sayers 3052 1374 1678 1006 973 1148 46 38 0 0 0 6,263
21 Thurman Thomas 3002 1089 1913 1829 2038 2113 1702 1442 1225 1287 851 16,532
23 Jerome Bettis 2991 1673 1318 743 1553 1775 1275 1201 1438 1120 723 15,111
24 Emmitt Smith 2986 1165 1821 2048 1900 1825 2148 1453 1308 1507 1516 21,579
25 Tony Dorsett 2983 1280 1703 1482 1448 1971 924 1608 1648 1756 1015 16,293
Average 3333 1563 1769 1559 1636 1642 1662 1421 1269 1162 975 15,691
 
Note that the average second season is once again the most productive, with a third-year dropoff, as it is among the entire population of the top 30 in yards gained from scrimmage in the first two seasons. However, the second most productive average season in this group is in year six!
 
It is also important to note that after the dropoff from year two to year three, there is an increase in average yards from scrimmage every year from years three through six.
 
Another point of interest is the number of league-leading seasons, which are indicated in boldface in the above tables. Hall of Famers (and those considered as such in this exercise) combined for eleven league-leading seasons in year three and beyond, compared to two seasons among other former players.
 
Not included in the above tables are years eleven and beyond. Six times a player has gained over 1,000 yards from scrimmage after his tenth year and as you might suspect, four of those seasons belong to Emmitt Smith. Marshall Faulk and Ottis Anderson each accomplished the feat one time.
 
The next table is for other former players who are not included in the Hall of Fame group.
 
Yards from scrimmage, other former RBs in Top 30 in first two seasons
Rank RB 1st 2 yrs Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Yr 4 Yr 5 Yr 6 Yr 7 Yr 8 Yr 9 Yr 10 Career
2 Edgerrin James 4442 2139 2303 855 1343 1551 2031 1843 1376 1426 599 15,610
4 Billy Sims 3812 1924 1888 981 1459 926 0 0 0 0 0 7,178
7 Ottis Anderson 3573 1913 1660 1763 693 1729 1785 704 374 22 265 13,335
10 Jamal Lewis 3429 1660 1769 2271 1122 1097 1247 1552 1180 588 0 12,486
12 Terrell Davis 3322 1484 1848 2037 2225 237 286 770 0 0 0 8,887
13 Joe Cribbs 3300 1600 1700 732 1655 541 936 370 21 0 0 7,555
16 Herschel Walker 3180 1574 1606 2019 1338 1085 1029 1348 1356 1028 360 13,084
17 Domanick Williams 3158 1382 1776 1313 0 0 0 0 4,471
19 William Andrews 3096 1332 1764 2036 1076 2176 249 0 0 0 0 8,633
22 Eddie George 2993 1550 1443 1604 1762 1962 1218 1420 1194 515 0 12,668
27 Abner Haynes 2850 1451 1399 1622 822 1259 382 784 446 0 0 8,165
29 Greg Bell 2836 1377 1459 519 182 1336 1222 171 0 0 0 6,266
30 Warrick Dunn 2810 1440 1370 1205 1555 1004 1304 1008 1400 1636 1310 15,306
Average 3293 1602 1691 1458 1172 1146 899 767 612 435 211 10,280
 
Note that the average productivity of these players declines every season after the second.
 
I do not know whether Edgerrin James or Jamal Lewis have officially filed their retirement papers with the league but for the purposes of this exercise they are considered former players. I considered including James in the Hall of Fame group but did not. If he had been included with that group, the gap between the Hall of Famers and other former players would have been even greater than it is.
 
This gap can best be seen in the next table, where we compare the average seasons of the first two groups.
 
Average yards from scrimmage comparison, HoF RBs vs other RBs in Top 30 in first two seasons
Group 1st 2 yrs Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Yr 4 Yr 5 Yr 6 Yr 7 Yr 8 Yr 9 Yr 10 Career
Average of Hall of Fame RBs 3333 1563 1769 1559 1636 1642 1662 1421 1269 1162 975 15,691
Average of other former RBs 3293 1602 1691 1458 1172 1146 899 767 612 435 211 10,280
 
Note that while the average yards from scrimmage increases every year from years three through six for the HoF backs, it decreases for the other former players. At this point, they are groups going in opposite directions as illustrated in the following graph.
 
Average yards from scrimmage comparison, HoF RBs vs other former RBs
 
We now list the active players and their yards from scrimmage. As noted earlier, though LaDainian Tomlinson is still an active player he was included in the Hall of Fame grouping and not here.
 
Yards from scrimmage, active RBs in Top 30 in first two seasons
Rank RB 1st 2 yrs Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Yr 4 Yr 5 Yr 6 Yr 7 Yr 8 Total
3 Chris Johnson 3997 1488 2509 3,997
5 Clinton Portis 3777 1872 1905 1550 1732 693 1651 1705 551 11,659
9 Adrian Peterson 3494 1609 1885 1819 5,313
18 Matt Forte 3115 1715 1400 3,115
26 Frank Gore 2919 739 2180 1538 1409 1526 7,392
28 Joseph Addai 2842 1406 1436 750 1164 4,756
Average 3357 1472 1886 1414 1435 1110 1651 1705 551 6,039
 
Will CJ’s career production be similar to the Hall of Famers or the other backs? 
 
The first table in this article, which showed CJ with the third most yards from scrimmage in his first two seasons, can be used to compare CJ’s production with that of all the other top 30 backs but doesn’t really provide any indication of future expectations. We can, however, compare CJ’s rookie year to second season increase with the increases made by others.
 
The following table shows that Frank Gore had the highest percent of increase, which is mathematically due to the low denominator in year one. (Gore spent his rookie season as Kevan Barlow’s backup and his touches were limited.)
 
Yards from scrimmage increase, year 1 to 2
RB Yr 1 Yr 2 Increase
Frank Gore 739 2180 195.0%
Thurman Thomas 1089 1913 75.7%
Chris Johnson 1488 2509 68.6%
Emmitt Smith 1165 1821 56.3%
L. Tomlinson 1603 2172 35.5%
Tony Dorsett 1280 1703 33.0%
 
CJ’s 69% increase in yards from scrimmage from his first to second season is most similar to Hall of Fame RBs Thurman Thomas (76%) and Emmitt Smith (56%), which is pretty nice company to be in. CJ has also been in very good company in the other parts of this series, so if one is judged by the company he keeps, all indications are CJ is in very good position to have an outstanding career.
 
Most importantly, in my opinion, the overall increase in production from years three to six among Hall of Fame backs and their overall sustained production bode well for CJ. There is great reason to believe he can sustain his productivity for four more years.
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