Yo, Adrian: Titans' Johnson stakes claim as best running back in NFL
The Cold, Hard Football Facts say he's not.
They say that it's time for AP to step aside and make room atop the RB totem pole for Tennessee superman
The big news is not that Johnson leads the NFL in rushing yards (959) or that he's more than 100 yards ahead of the No. 2 guy (
The big news is that Tennessee's second-year man averages a mind-boggling 6.66 yards every time he carries the ball this year. He's cranked out his 959 yards on just 144 attempts. Peterson, for his part, averages a solid 4.81 YPA (163 carries for 784 yards).
If Johnson's average per attempt seems unusually high, it should.
Even the great
Johnson has been absolutely scorching over the past three games, the brightest spot for a team that began 0-6 before he led them to consecutive victories.
He rushed 25 times for 135 yards (5.4 YPA) and two touchdowns in Tennessee 's 34-27 win over San Francisco last week. He ran 24 times for 228 yards (9.5 YPA) and a pair of scores in Tennessee 's 30-13 win over Jacksonville the previous week.
Even in Tennessee's 59-0 loss to the Patriots, the biggest defeat any team has suffered in 33 years, Johnson was on a different planet than the rest of his mates: he rushed 17 times for 128 yards (7.5 YPA) on a snow-covered field in Foxboro.
Throughout history, the average ballcarrier averages 4.0 YPA. The average team averages 4.0 YPA. Only the occasional big play separates the average guys from the prolific guys, such as
Twelve of Johnson's 144 attempts (1 in 12) have gone for 20-plus yards; Peterson is second, with eight runs of 20-plus. Six of Johnson's 144 attempts (1 in 24) have gone for 40-plus yards;
The pigskin public, not to mention the Cold, Hard Football Facts, should have focused a little more attention on Johnson after his great rookie season of 2008. He quietly ran 251 times for 1,228 yards (4.89 YPA). But his output was more or less lost in the noise over Tennessee 's 13-3 season, the revival of
But halfway through his second year, Johnson has a very early track record that rivals or exceeds that of any player at his position in decades. In fact, here's how Johnson stacks up against the explosive Peterson halfway through their respective second seasons (2007 and eight games in 2008 for AP; 2008 and eight games in 2009 for CJ).
Johnson has not carried the ball as often, but he has produced more yards and a greater average per attempt. He's also used more as a pass catcher. He's already caught 64 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns in his career. Peterson, with an extra season under his belt, has caught 59 passes for one touchdown, though he has been more prolific, with 582 yards receiving.
Both Peterson and Johnson were first-round picks -- Peterson No. 7 overall in 2007, Johnson No. 24 overall in 2008. So NFL talent evaluators believed seriously that both could play at a high level in the pros. But Peterson enjoyed the fortune of entering the NFL with far more acclaim: he was a Heisman candidate at football-factory Oklahoma. Johnson, for his part, toiled away with a fraction of the acclaim at unheralded East Carolina.
The pigskin pundits were ready to anoint AP the best back in the league as soon as he appeared to live up to the hype (which he has). But Johnson did not enjoy the same kind of hype. And it always takes pundits time to catch up with reality when they don't have the compass called hype to guide them.
But if Johnson had entered the league with the same kind of name recognition, there'd be no doubt today that he, not Peterson, is pro football's best, most dangerous and most exciting ballcarrier.