Baltimore Ravens: Chris Johnson Fit a RB by Committee?


The New York Jets will decline to pick up veteran running back Chris Johnson‘s team option, thus making him a free agent beginning on March 10th. Johnson would have been responsible for a $5.25 million cap hit in 2015, so understandably a team decision to hold onto the speedster would have been slim to none.  With running backs Chris Ivory — the presumable workhorse for at least the next two or three years — and Bilal Powell still on the roster, the new coaching staff and front office most likely made the decision that the logjam in the backfield was not the place to tie up their cap space.

All-around offensive weapon Percy Harvin did have his option for 2015-2018 picked up, and he will be a huge cap hit with his lowest number being $9.95 million and his highest being the last year of the contract where he will take away $11.15 million. Combine those players with D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Eric Decker, and David Harris who all have large contracts, it is easy to see how Chris Johnson was the odd man out.

The Baltimore Ravens could offer Chris Johnson a consistent and defined role in one of the better running back by committee schemes on one of the better offenses in the league.

It is common knowledge that the Jets organization was a grease fire last year — be it the quarterback situation with Geno Smith and Mike Vick, Rex Ryan as the ringmaster of his never-ending circus, or winning games that limited their chance at getting the quarterback desired by the franchise and their fanbase. However, the source of all of the problems in East Rutherford, NJ was former General Manager John Idzik.

Chris Johnson brought to light how Idzik’s incompetence affected him, having been told that his role in the committee would have been larger and that he felt lied to and betrayed by Idzik who personally took it upon himself to cut Johnson’s minutes and touches.

Despite the shaky offseason and the Ray Rice situation that dragged over into the regular season last year, the Ravens are still off one of the more stable and consistent organizations in the NFL. Whether it be the front office, coaching staff, or locker room, Chris Johnson would feel right at home with the familial environment fostered here. The city would welcome CJ 2k with open arms. But most importantly, the Baltimore Ravens could offer Chris Johnson a consistent and defined role in one of the better running back by committee schemes on one of the better offenses in the league.

Statistically Chris Johnson was underwhelming last year. He had career lows in every statistical category except for fumbles (1), fumbles lost (1), and yards per carry (4.3), which happen to be pretty good. He only had 155 carries for 663 yards, a single touchdown, and 21 first downs. He played in all 16 games in 2014 and happens to be a very healthy career player for having such an up and down running style. He has played 16 games in all but one season: his 2008 rookie season.

Johnson still has breakaway speed and elite NFL shiftiness that could make him an extremely valuable player when he is not asked to carry the load. He won’t be a short yardage back or a goal line package running back, but of course he never has been. But he does have an elite skill set that, when managed correctly (which arguably never would have happened with the Jets) can be the inch of difference that separates playoff contenders and teams that simply make the playoffs.

Lorenzo Taliaferro was a fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Coastal Carolina. A big back at 6’0 230 pounds, he is a bruiser not a burner; he is effectively the perfect complement or vice (inversely) the perfect back to be complemented by a big-play speed back. He is a young, talented running back who may not be ready for 20 to 30 carries a game, but 10 to 15 a game may put him in a good place for the present and the future.

From 2008-2009 Chris Johnson was arguably the best running back in the NFL. In 2009 he had 2006 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 79 first downs on 358 carries and 5.6 yards per carry. He had one of the better seasons in NFL history, but the other running back on his team played a large role in his success. LenDale White, the backup to Reggie Bush in his Heisman season at USC, again played the yin to a star running back’s yang in Tennessee. LenDale White, 6’1 235 lb., and Lorenzo Taliaferro are two similarly-sized and skilled running backs, so it is not far fetched to think that their effectiveness could be similar as well. In fact I would say that under a brilliant offensive mind like Marc Trestman’s, Taliaferro could provide even more lucrative production.

After being a nobody for just about the entirety of his career, last year Justin Forsett had a breakout season by more than doubling his previous career highs in attempts, yards, and touchdowns. This should be more of an indictment on the offensive line and running scheme than on a running back who was a non factor before somehow becoming a star. Next year, unless Justin Forsett goes to a team that is willing to provide him with the offensive line and scheme that is similar to what was in Baltimore (Forsett signing in Denver is a possibility), he will most likely go back to his prior form. If the Ravens would substitute a running back with the clear advantage in pedigree, skill set, and talent level, the on-field results will reflect the former — whether it be statistically or on a win-loss basis.

In no way shape or form will Chris Johnson be his 2009 self; he is older, less explosive, and less fast. But with a consistent workload, good to great offensive line,  quarterback playing for a few large paychecks in the future, and defense that could end up being a top five unit in the NFL with a few key upgrades, Chris Johnson could be a highly-lubricated cog in a championship-contending machine next year. For the sake of the Baltimore Ravens, let’s hope it is here.

Next: Collegiate Players for the Ravens to consider