2012W03 CJ hope

Titans release Chris Johnson

Well, per Jim Wyatt, it’s a done deal. The Titans are cutting the player who gained 2 yards on this play.


Okay, I suppose I could say a little bit more than that.

The above image comes from the first play of the second quarter in the 2011 Week 15 game in Indianapolis. By that point, I had already noted a game where Chris Johnson was not really an NFL-caliber rusher and declared I was pretty much done with CJ. While plays like the above and games like the one at home against Houston have been less common the past two seasons, Johnson was still never more than a league-average back in terms of effectiveness. Oh, until 2013, he had the long runs that so skew the yards per carry and make him look good, but not often enough. Of course, that shouldn’t have been a surprise-the same was true in 2010, before the Titans decided that he was an offensive superstar and meant more to the offense than a normal running back. I mean, just look at how he carried the offense the second half of 2010 after the Vince Young-Kenny Britt connection was broken! (For those not fans of the Titans: they finished 1-8 after starting 5-2.)

As to CJ the player, I’ve stated my book on him before, most recently in the RB positional analysis. He still has long speed, but his production is insanely dependent on the quality (and perceived by him quality) of the first- and second-level blocking the rest of the offense provides him. (See the Rams game.) If you can get him in the open field against safeties, he can still be elusive, but he rarely runs through tackles or dodges defenders in the box. He is not an ideal fit as a zone runner, as he does not have particularly good vision and regularly cuts back into even worse situations if his initial read is to cut back. He is also not an ideal fit for man-blocking plays, as he too often is an arhythmic runner who lacks a feel for the timing of allowing blocks to set up and develop and then attacking before the holes close. He’s improved from a couple years ago as a pass protector, but the Titans still had him regularly come out of the game on third downs even though they lacked a prototypical third down back. I’m still not sure I’ve ever seen him run what I would characterize as a real passing route, a disappointment considering he spent a season in college as a receiver. He also turns 29 in September and is coming off six consecutive seasons with at least 250 carries. On the other hand, he’s never missed a game due to injury.

Johnson’s $8 million salary comes off the books, while the dead money hit is $4 million, so the Titans pick up about $5.5 million in cap space (top 51, next biggest contract now counts). With no CJ, the Titans have Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, and Dexter McCluster at running back. Like everyone else, I expect them to draft a back in next month’s NFL draft, and it could happen as early as the second round.