Is Chris Johnson a player in decline?
That’s a question NFL teams will have to ponder if the 28-year-old tailback is released by Tennessee this offseason. Johnson is due $8 million next season, and he gained just 3.9 yards per carry this season, so speculation about his future is only natural.
In a story published by the Nashville Tennessean on Tuesday, former Broncos tailback and current NFL Network analyst Terrell Davis indicated Johnson’s physical skills were still up to par. Johnson, Davis told the paper, “still has something in the tank.”
However, Davis questioned Johnson’s “desire” to play hard.
“When I watch film, I don’t see the effort in him,” Davis told the Tennessean. “And I never, ever want to question somebody’s effort. But … the tape, it doesn’t lie. And I don’t see the desire I saw when he was Chris Johnson, the no-big-contract Chris Johnson.
“I see times when maybe he is not getting as many yards as he could. He could break a few more tackles, and maybe hit the hole a little harder at times.”
Johnson signed a four-year, $53.5 million contract before the 2011 season. Since then, he’s gained 4.1 yards per carry, gaining 3,367 yards on 817 attempts.
Before the contract extension, Johnson racked up 4,598 rushing yards on 925 carries in his first three NFL campaigns, averaging 5.0 yards per attempt from 2008-2010.
Numbers are numbers, and the tape is the tape. If Johnson hits free agency, teams will make up their own minds on what they see. Johnson’s exceptional career production and dependability (one game missed in six NFL seasons) will work in his favor.
In the end, any list of potential suitors for Johnson would likely be RB-needy clubs, ones that might be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt were he to need any at all. Nevertheless, Davis’ comments are interesting, and are they ever strong.