Expectations for Chris Johnson, Part Two

Several things really stood out in the data in Part One of this series on expectations for Chris Johnson.
 
First, it was noted that in the 31 years since the NFL instituted a 16-game regular season, the rushing leader gained an average of only 73.6% of that yardage in the following season. However, not all of the rushing leaders gained less yardage the following year. Eight times the league leader rushed for even more yards the next year. Seven of those times that player was one who won multiple rushing titles.
 
The second thing that stood out was the sustained production of multi-year rushing leaders. Barry Sanders won his fourth rushing title seven years after he won his first. Eric Dickerson’s fourth rushing title came five years after his first. Edgerrin James twice rushed for 1,500 yards five years after leading the league.  

 

 
Backs who won only one rushing title had a dramatic dropoff in production. Only four of twelve one-time rushing leaders gained 1,000 yards the following season. Only two of them rushed for 1,000 yards five years later.
 
It was therefore evident that the nineteen running backs who led the league in rushing since 1978 could easily be classified into two categories, those with multiple rushing titles and those with one.
 
The backs with multiple rushing titles were able to sustain their productivity (mostly) for five additional years. The backs with only one rushing title, for the most part, could not sustain a high level of production.
 
For that reason, I have taken the table from Part One, which grouped all the backs together, and divided it into two groups. Multiple-year rushing leaders are first, followed by one-time rushing leaders.
 
Running backs with multiple rushing titles, 1978-present
Year Leading rusher Yards Year+1 Year+2 Year+3 Year+4 Year+5
1978 Earl Campbell 1,450 1,697 1,934 1,376 538 1,301
1979 Earl Campbell 1,697 1,934 1,376 538 1,301 468
1980 Earl Campbell 1,934 1,376 538 1,301 468 643
1983 Eric Dickerson 1,808 2,105 1,234 1,821 1,288 1,659
1984 Eric Dickerson 2,105 1,234 1,821 1,288 1,659 1,311
1986 Eric Dickerson 1,821 1,288 1,659 1,311 677 536
1988 Eric Dickerson 1,659 1,311 677 536 729 91
1990 Barry Sanders 1,304 1,548 1,352 1,115 1,883 1,500
1991 Emmitt Smith 1,563 1,713 1,486 1,484 1,773 1,204
1992 Emmitt Smith 1,713 1,486 1,484 1,773 1,204 1,074
1993 Emmitt Smith 1,486 1,484 1,773 1,204 1,074 1,332
1994 Barry Sanders 1,883 1,500 1,553 2,053 1,491 0
1995 Emmitt Smith 1,773 1,204 1,074 1,332 1,397 1,203
1996 Barry Sanders 1,553 2,053 1,491 0 0 0
1997 Barry Sanders 2,053 1,491 0 0 0 0
1999 Edgerrin James 1,553 1,709 662 989 1,259 1,548
2000 Edgerrin James 1,709 662 989 1,259 1,548 1,506
2006 LaDainian Tomlinson 1,815 1,474 1,110 730
2007 LaDainian Tomlinson 1,474 1,110 730
Average 1,703 1,494 1,208 1,117 1,076 904
% of Year 0 100% 87.7% 70.9% 65.6% 63.2% 53.1%
% applied to CJ 2,006 1,760 1,423 1,316 1,267 1,066

 

Running backs with one rushing title, 1978-present
Year Leading rusher Yards Year+1 Year+2 Year+3 Year+4 Year+5
1981 George Rogers 1,674 535 1,144 914 1,093 1,203
1982 Freeman McNeil 786 654 1,070 1,331 856 530
1985 Marcus Allen 1,759 759 754 831 293 682
1987 Charles White 1,374 323 0 0 0 0
1989 Christian Okoye 1,480 805 1,031 448 0 0
1998 Terrell Davis 2,008 211 282 701 0 0
2001 Priest Holmes 1,555 1,615 1,420 892 451 137
2002 Ricky Williams 1,853 1,372 0 743 0 15
2003 Jamal Lewis 2,066 1,006 906 1,132 1,304 1,002
2004 Curtis Martin 1,697 735 0 0 0 0
2005 Shaun Alexander 1,880 896 716 24 0
2008 Adrian Peterson 1,760 1,383
2009 Chris Johnson 2,006
Average 1,684 858 666 638 363 357
% of Year 0 100.0% 50.9% 39.5% 37.9% 21.6% 21.2%
% applied to CJ 2,006 1,022 793 760 433 425
 
Note there is little difference between the two groups in yardage gained the year of the rushing title, 1,703 to 1,684 yards. The following year has a tremendous discrepancy, which continues through the fifth year. The year after leading the league in rushing, the first group had a dropoff of only 12% as compared to a 49% decrease for the one-time league leaders.
 
It should also be noted that the multi-year rushing leaders consist of four Hall of Fame backs and two who will most probably be enshrined when they become eligible. There is only one HoF RB, Marcus Allen, among the backs who won the rushing title once. Curtis Martin will most probably join him and Jamal Lewis might.
 
There are clear distinctions between the two groups and we won’t know for several more years which group Chris Johnson belongs to. If he ends up in the first group, he should rush for over 1,000 yards in each of the next five years and 10,000 yards in seven seasons (he already has 3,234 yards.)
 
The beauty of this, from the Titans’ perspective, is that they have three more years of CJ to look forward to and possibly, if he continues to be productive, several more after that.
 
Wouldn’t it be great if CJ’s production, and the longevity of it, is similar to Sanders’, Dickerson’s or Emmitt’s? We may be witnessing the beginning of another spectacular streak.
 
On the other hand, there is the possibility he could end up like some of the other one-time league leaders, who were unable to sustain their productivity. We shall see.
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