Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Apr 2014

Titans Release RB Chris Johnson

The Titans made the inevitable official today, informing running back Chris Johnson he will be released. In a statement released by general manager Ruston Webster, they noted they tried to trade him but failed, unsurprisingly considering his scheduled $8 million salary.

As far as Johnson the runner, though his yards per carry dipped below 4.0, by our numbers 2013 was his best season since that 2000-yard campaign in 2009. He posted a career-best 46% success rate (31st among the 47 ranked RBs) and had a positive DVOA (1.5%, 22nd) for the first time since 2009.

I attribute the better results in 2013 to the improvement in the offensive line. To my eyes, Johnson has been generally the same back the past four seasons, minus the parts of 2011 where he did some unspeakably ineffective things I've never seen from an NFL running back.

He is a frustrating player, because if you get him to the third level, he is a very effective back. The problem is getting him there in the first place, because he won't do it on his own. He does not have the vision to be a great runner in a zone scheme, regularly cutting back into worse situations if his first read is to cut back. He does not have the sense of rhythm to be a great runner in a man scheme, regularly attacking plays either before the blocks develop or after they've started to fail. It was easy to see this watching him run counter as opposed to how Shonn Greene or Jackie Battle ran counter this past season. With his speed, he seems like he'd be a good third down back, but while he's improved in that area he still struggles a lot as a pass protector (most blown blocks among RBs in 2012, regularly removed on third downs for Battle in 2013). He also has not been an effective receiver outside of some good work in the screen game the second half of 2010.

Where does that fit and in what role, especially considering he turns 29 in September? The Bills, Jets, Dolphins, and Falcons reportedly had interest in him when he was on the trade block. My guess is signing Knowshon Moreno took the Dolphins out of the running. I'll be interested to see where he lands, and what kind of contract he gets.

Posted by: Tom Gower on 04 Apr 2014

13 comments, Last at 10 Apr 2014, 12:36am by The Ninjalectual


by justanothersteve :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 5:50pm

How much cap room does Oakland have left? I know they signed MJD and re-signed McFadden. But it could be so much fun.

by erniecohen :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 6:42am

So, in the final reckoning, the last contract the Titans gave him (when he had two years left on his renegotiated rookie contract) essentially paid him something over $25M for 2013. For those of you who called for the Titans to give in in 2011, please remember this number before you next type the words "pay the man".

by GoBlue88 :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 3:48pm

What unspeakable things are you referring to from 2011?

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 3:56pm

If only he could speak about them, but alas.

The man with no sig

by Theo :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 8:26pm


by the cat in the ... :: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 3:26am

Ia! Ia! Tennessee F'taghn!

by Tom Gower :: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 4:38pm

Diving headfirst into the ground rather than be tackled or attempt to avoid a tackler was my favorite. Hesitating in the middle of a big hole was another. Just really weird, awful, completely unproductive things you don't see from any other running back except maybe on bad high school teams.

by The Ninjalectual :: Thu, 04/10/2014 - 12:36am

So 2009 Chris Johnson < 2013 Trent Richardson?

by Sifter :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 5:13pm

Is going to the Rams and reuniting with Jeff Fisher too simplistic? Zac Stacy and Isaiah Pead are hardly big names. Stacy did well, but if Johnson signs a sensible contract you'd think he's in with a good shot at starting. Cardinals might be the other team I'd mention. Ellington can't carry a big load, needs someone else in that backfield.

by mrt1212 :: Sun, 04/06/2014 - 4:13pm

Why is Jeff Fisher always connected with old flames on the titans.

by LionInAZ :: Wed, 04/09/2014 - 6:14pm

You might as well ask why the Lions just brought back Dan Orlovsky.

by Whatev :: Sun, 04/06/2014 - 8:17pm

So what was different about 2009?

by Tom Gower :: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 4:44pm

Teams hadn't yet learned how to defend CJ. He's fundamentally a perimeter runner. If you set the edge and deny him the corner, he's a much less effective back.