Rushing for 2,000 yards in a single season seems to be a "generational" accomplishment. It has only happened seven times in NFL history, but it has occurred in the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the 00s, and the 10s at least once. You would think that every running back to get to 2,000 yards is a surefire Hall of Famer, but that hasn't always been the case.
With Chris Johnson, the second-youngest player to ever get to 2,000, people are already beginning to wonder if he should even be a starter anymore at age 28, despite the fact that he has never failed to reach 1,000 yards in a season.
Chris Johnson's future
The Tennessee Titans will likely make a decision this week that he's not worth a roster spot, especially at his present cost.
Back in 2009, Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards in only his second NFL season. At 24 years and 102 days, Johnson was nearly the youngest player to ever get to that milestone, but he was barely bested by Eric Dickerson. At 24 years and 98 days, and in just the 15th game of the NFL season, Dickerson rushed for 215 yards against the Houston Oilers to get over 2,000 yards. The following week, he set an NFL mark of 2,105 yards in a single season, which still stands as the record today.
Though that would be the peak of Dickerson's Hall of Fame career, he was hardly finished. Dickerson led the NFL in yards per game three more times and finished seventh all-time in rushing yards with 13,259. Of the 14 players to rush for 12,000 career yards, 11 of them are in the Hall of Fame, and the other three could be joining them sometime soon.
Johnson seems like a longshot to join that list, but he wouldn't be the only player with a 2,000-yard season to be looking at those NFL greats from the outside.
Dickerson, Barry Sanders, and O.J. Simpson were easy choices for the Hall, and Adrian Peterson will one day be a shoe-in, but there are two others besides Johnson that have been just as unfortunate. Some would say that Terrell Davis belongs in the Hall of Fame for his sheer dominance from 1995 to 1998, including two Super Bowl trophies, but that was basically his entire career.
Davis rushed for 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1998 when he was 26 years old, but injuries finished him from that point on. He ran for just 1,194 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons following '98.
NFL Free Agency
NFL Free Agency
The closest comparison at this point to Johnson is probably Jamal Lewis. Also only 24 when he eclipsed 2,000 yards in 2003, Lewis peaked by a mile. His 129.1 yards per game that season was 42.2 yards per game higher than any other season of his nine-year career. He rushed for 5.3 yards per carry in 2003, and then 3.8 yards per carry in the next six seasons with Baltimore and Cleveland.
Though Lewis entered the league like a bullet -- the fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft and a Super Bowl victory as a rookie -- he left like a Roomba with a missing wheel. That's probably an apt comparison to Johnson, the player who ran a 4.24 40-yard dash at the combine and was the Offensive Player of the Year in his second season, but has been hard to watch in many games since.
Johnson was still pretty good in 2010, rushing for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the warning signs were there. He rushed for less than three yards per carry in five of 16 games. In the season finale against the Colts, Johnson rushed 20 times for 39 yards. Though he could not have cared less, Johnson drove fantasy owners mad by rushing for 130 yards and two touchdowns in one game and then seven times for five yards and no scores in the next.
The Titans must have figured that Johnson's bad games were a fluke, and signed him to a six-year, $55 million deal in September of 2011.
In Johnson's first three games of the 2011 season, he rushed 46 times for 98 yards and no touchdowns. He would later add games of 10 rushes for 18 yards against Houston and 12 rushes for 13 yards against Atlanta. It almost became a game of: How Low Could CJ Go?
CJ2K was quickly becoming CJ2YPC. He finished the year with 1,047 yards and 4.0 yards per carry but outdid himself at the beginning of 2012.
In Johnson's first three games of the 2012 season, he rushed 33 times for 45 yards. The rest of the time, he'd "save himself" with games of 140+ yards, but for the majority of the last three seasons, Johnson has been a liability on the offense. He has rushed for under 3.0 yards per carry in 19 of his last 48 games.
Three years after signing a big six-year deal, it appears that Tennessee is going to part ways with the former 2,000-yard rusher. They'll save $6 million against the cap in 2014 by doing so, with $4 million in dead money.
SB Nation NFL
SB Nation NFL
Will the next team to pick him up (for considerably less money) be getting much in return? It wouldn't appear so.
Johnson is entering his age 29 season. Peterson just turned 29 himself, so we're not sure yet how the rest of his career will turn out. Lewis rushed for 1,002 yards when he was 29 and retired one year later. Simpson led the NFL in rushing when he was 29, but sputtered out after three more lackluster seasons. Dickerson was a Pro Bowler at 29, but a role player for the four years following. As noted before, Davis was an injury mess when he turned 27. And Sanders, being that he was possibly the greatest of all-time, rushed for 2,053 yards when he was 29 and got out one year later when the getting was good.
At just 7,965 yards, Johnson is well shy of the 12,000-yard mark for his career, and he likely doesn't have many years left in the NFL. He'll probably finish a lot closer to a player like Ahman Green than he will to Sanders. But to his credit, he does have something that only six other players in NFL history have.
And that's not something that anyone can take from him.