Disappointment, thy name is Chris Johnson.
If a fortuneteller had informed you in August that “C.J.” would be leading the NFL in rushing after two weeks, you would have assumed she was talking about Chris Johnson, and you would have placed him on the top tier of your pre-draft RB rankings amidst Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy.
But no. C.J. Spiller is leading the league in rushing, and “CJ2K” is leading the league only in fantasy heartache produced — C.J. Spiller and C.J. Season Killer.
Players with rapidly descending fantasy value tend to be involved in a lot of trades, because disgusted owners are usually willing to unload a player who’s causing them misery, and speculators are anxious to move in and take advantage of a depressed commodity price in an attempt to turn a sizable profit. It’s always interesting to see what a player with rapidly deteriorating value can fetch in a trade, since his value is a moving target.
I know three people who traded away Johnson in redraft leagues this week:
The first traded Johnson and Dallas Clark for Mark Ingram and Brandon Pettigrew.
The second traded him for Donald Brown straight up.
The third traded Johnson, Shonn Greene, Philip Rivers and Antonio Brown for Trent Richardson, Matt Schaub, Anquan Boldin and Santana Moss.
The first owner had been fortunate enough to draft Spiller. An upbeat fellow by nature, this owner told me that rather than kick himself for drafting Johnson, he pretended he’d drafted Spiller in the first round and Johnson in the middle rounds (which is where he found Spiller). He said that made it easier for him to take pragmatic action and trade away Johnson to help himself at tight end, where he needed help after failing to realize that Clark is now playing with Josh Freeman rather than pre-neck-injury Peyton Manning.
The second owner was skeptical of Johnson all along but drafted him anyway when he slid to the bottom of the first round in a 12-team league. This owner has been openly disgusted with Johnson and has frequently advertised his disdain for the running back ever since Johnson laid an egg in Week One. A rival owner who didn’t particularly need a running back — Brown was his RB4 — made what both parties considered to be a lowball offer, yet the original Johnson owner accepted anyway, happy to be rid of a player causing him agita.
The third owner had atoned for the Johnson pick by drafting well otherwise (save for the Shonn Greene pick, perhaps). He drafted Robert Griffin III as a backup to Rivers. He also got good draft value with some of his receivers, particularly Reggie Wayne and Danny Amendola. His success at drafting depth allowed him to put together an intriguing multi-player package in order to land Richardson, whom he coveted.
So which of these trades represent fair value? Based on the circumstances, the first and third owners appear to have gotten fair value. Despite Johnson’s horrific start, they were able to use him as a trade chip to address areas of need.
What about the second owner? His undisguised frustration led to a pennies-on-the-dollar trade offer, and some would argue that he let his emotions get the best of him in accepting the offer.
I’d agree that the second owner acted rashly. It’s hard to blame him for getting emotional about one of his players — a lot of us do. But he admits that he failed to explore the market for Johnson as thoroughly as he should have, and he concedes that there might have been a better deal out there for him.
That said, I don’t think it was a bad trade. If I were a Johnson owner, and after doing due diligence and talking to other owners around the league, I realized that all I could get for trading away Johnson was Donald Brown, I think I still would have pulled the trigger.
Forget about Johnson’s 2,000-yard rushing season. All that matters is what he is now, and I happen to think that, at this moment, Donald Brown is a more valuable running back than Chris Johnson. We can debate whether Johnson’s current woes are due more to bad blocking or lackluster effort, but ultimately, individual perception is what counts.
Personally, I think Johnson’s problems are attributable to both bad blocking and lackluster effort, though I tend to think the latter is the greater factor. It will be interesting to see whether Johnson can pull out of his tailspin in the weeks to come, and if not, what the Titans will do about it. Benching Johnson would be a drastic measure, but Johnson didn’t do himself any favors with some very thinly veiled criticism of his offensive line earlier this week. At some point the Titans might have to consider a change at running back for sake of team morale.
Backup Javon Ringer is close to returning to action after undergoing two surgeries to clear up a nasty elbow infection. But Ringer has no special qualities and isn’t good enough to be a long-term starter. The more interesting figure here is third-stringer Jamie Harper, a 233-pound bulldozer with quickness that belies his bulk. And the dude runs hard. It’s not hard to imagine a group of linemen being fired up to block for a guy like Harper. I’m intrigued enough by Harper that I just picked him up in a deep league. It’s a move that could potentially pay big dividends if the Chris Johnson spiral continues.
Three random thoughts:
• The lament of fantasy owners with regard to Darren McFadden has long been, “If only he could stay healthy!” Well, he’s healthy. Don’t sweat the fact that he’s averaging 2.1 yards per carry and hasn’t scored any touchdowns. If McFadden remains healthy, the numbers will come. He has a favorable schedule lined up after Week Three, and while his matchup against the Steelers this weekend is daunting, I think it would be a mistake to bench him. Don’t forget that the Steelers will likely be without OLB James Harrison and SS Troy Polamalu due to injuries, which significantly defangs the Pittsburgh defense. Don’t be spooked by the matchup; keep rolling with a healthy McFadden.
• I’m finally ready to come around on Matt Ryan. I’ve been down on him for the last few years, mainly because I didn’t think he showed a lot of composure in the face of a pass rush, and he didn’t have the mobility to keep plays alive when his protection broke down. Ryan looked terrific in the preseason, but he was facing vanilla defenses, not to mention a lot of second-stringers. He was sharp in a Week One dismantling of Kansas City, but the Chiefs were without their best pass rusher, Tamba Hali, and their best cornerback, Brandon Flowers. It was Ryan’s Week Three performance against a game Broncos pass defense that won me over. Ryan didn’t produce spectacular numbers in that game, but he was cool in the face of pressure, completing a number of passes just before the rush got to him. He also scrambled out of trouble on several occasions (and he even ran for a touchdown in Week One). I haven’t read anything about Ryan doing any sort of speed training in the offseason, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he had. He looks much, much faster this season.
• Pitta-mania is running wild. Ravens TE Dennis Pitta has been a wildly popular waiver-wire pickup this week after exploding out of the gate with 13 catches for 138 yards and a TD in his first two games. Can he keep it up? Ravens QB Joe Flacco has targeted Pitta 24 times in two games, which is 10 more targets than the next closest Baltimore player, RB Ray Rice. Pitta’s target rate is due for a crash back to earth. But in Pitta’s last five games dating back to Week 17 of last season (and including the Ravens’ two playoff games), he’s caught 26 passes for 270 yards and three TDs. Projected over a full season, those numbers would probably make Pitta a top-five tight end. I’m not sure that you can realistically make that sort of projection, but nor does it appear that Pitta is a fluke.