There was a time when Larry Johnson was one of the premier running backs in the game. In 2005, despite starting just 9 games, Johnson rushed for 1,750 yards and 20 TD. The full-time back in 2006, he followed that up with a mediocre 1,789 yards and 17 TD.
The scary thing is that those numbers don’t even factor in his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, picking up 343 and 410 yards, respectively. He was electric, dominating the game from the moment he stepped onto the field.
Unfortunately, since then he has been plagued by injuries and suspensions. In 2007 he played in just eight games before a foot injury prematurely ended his season. He was healthy for much of the 2008 season, but was suspended by the team and benched thanks to violating team rules. Later on in the season, he was suspended for a game by the league. All in all he played in just 12 games, rushing for 874 yards and 5 TD.
Clearly, even when he was healthy, he was just a shell of his former self. Well, is that actually true?
Johnson did average 4.5 yards per carry last season, the same number as Michael Turner and Thomas Jones. It was better then Clinton Portis (4.3), Maurice Jones-Drew (4.2) and Brian Westbrook (4.0), just to name a few.
He had 7 rushes of at least 20 yards, placing him in a tie for 13th. That was more than Ryan Grant (who had 119 more carries), LaDanian Tomlinson (who had 99 more carries) and Thomas Jones (who had 97 more carries).
The fact of the matter is if he had been given the opportunity to carry the ball more often, he would have been a very productive back on the ground. With Jamal Charles as his back up, he is likely not going to see 300+ carries again this year, but if healthy should see more than the 193 he was given last season.
Time will tell on how exactly the offense is run with a new head coach taking over. Herm Edwards is out, replaced by Todd Haley, the former offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. That offense certainly is not known for its ground attack, though it was built around two of the best wide receivers in the game. In Kansas City they are not going to have that benefit, so seeing a greater focus on the ground in order to open up the attack for Matt Cassell and company should not come as a surprise.
Cassell’s presence is an important thing to note, as he replaces Tyler Thigpen at the helm of the offense. While we will quickly find out if Cassell is as good as he played last season or just a produce of the Patriots system, he is certainly an upgrade and should take the pressure off the ground game. A below average offensive line is not going to help, but defenses are going to need to defend against an aerial attack and not simply stack the line.
So, when we put this all together, exactly what should we expect out of Johnson in 2009:
Rushing – 254 carries, 1,094 yards, 9 TD
Receiving – 24 catches, 210 yards. 1 TD
Basically, there is still hope left for a player that many others have already written off. He showed last season that the talent was still there, all he needs is the opportunity. With a current ADP of 51.08, your getting a potential #2 RB in the fifth round. That’s value that you just can’t beat.
I’m all for drafting him this season, depending on how the rest of your roster has shook out. Yes, he’s a risk, but so are all the other RB going at that point in the draft. Why not take the risk on a player who still shows life and has already performed as an elite back?
What are your thoughts on Johnson? Is he someone you think could reemerge as a must use back?
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