Former Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson knows a thing or two about running the football.
So, it’s no surprise when he said he was “jealous” of current Titans running back Derrick Henry while predicting that the aforementioned two-time NFL rushing champion would have a huge 2021 season.
“I wish I could've played there when we had that GM,” Johnson said to TMZ Sports in an exclusive story. “They’re doing what they got to do to win games.”
Johnson referred to general manager Jon Robinson’s willingness to surround Henry with elite talent throughout the offense. The most recent move being Robinson’s trade for Julio Jones, a seven-time Pro Bowler at wide receiver.
And it is Jones’ addition to an offense that already includes wide receiver A.J. Brown, a 2020 Pro Bowler who has topped 1,000 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, that lends Johnson to believe that Henry more difficult to stop this season than he was a year ago when he rushed for 2,027 yards, the fifth-highest total in league history.
“There's no way you can put eight, nine [defenders] in the box on Henry,” Johnson said. “You got Julio on the outside. You got A.J. on the other side. So, you can't stack the box or anything like that.”
A 2,000-yard rusher in his own right, Johnson understands how defenses try to limit the best running backs. He rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, which was the franchise record until Henry broke it and made Tennessee the only franchise in NFL history with two 2,000-yard rushers.
That same year, Johnson led the Titans with 50 receptions for 503 yards. His 69-yard touchdown in Week 2 against Houston and his 66-yard touchdown reception in Week 14 against the L.A. Rams were the team’s two longest pass plays of the season.
Tennessee’s top two wide receivers in 2009 were Justin Gage and Nate Washington. Combined, they amassed 952 yards and nine touchdowns on the year.
Current quarterback Ryan Tannehill has proven adept at play-action passes. That means Henry’s greatest contribution to the passing game this season will be as a decoy. Jones and Brown will be the ones catching Tannehill’s throws.
“You love that move," Johnson said of the trade. "You don't want to continue to run against eight and nine in the box. You don't want to do that."
During Johnson’s six season with the Titans he never had the luxury of playing with a “one-one punch” like Jones and Brown. The best pair of wide receivers he had as teammates during that time was in 2010 when Washington teamed with Kenny Britt, a first-round pick that year. Britt caught 42 passes for 775 yards and nine touchdowns, and Washington hauled in 42 catches for 687 yards and six touchdowns as Johnson followed up his 2,000-yard season with 1,364 rushing yards.
So, it’s easy to see why Johnson is envious of Henry’s current embarrassment of riches on the offense.
“I wish they would have made them moves when I was there,” he said.
Still, Johnson’s experience also taught him that football games are not won in June.
“Everything looks good on paper," Johnson said. "We got to go out there and prove it.”