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2012 Tennessee Titans offseason positional analysis: RB
Chris Johnson photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans
Which Chris Johnson will we see this year?
Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans

We continue our position by position analysis of the Titans with a look now at the running backs.

I was tempted to abide by the saying, “if you can’t say anything good about someone, then don’t say anything at all.”  However, if I had followed that advice, then this would be a blank page.

The Titans rushing offense was ranked last in the league last year by Football Outsiders, and while some of the blame certainly belongs to the o-line, the biggest reason, as Ben Muth wrote in this piece, was the guy who made the most money.

Chris Johnson, of course, was the man Muth was referring to.  CJ missed training camp in a holdout last year and after he received the money befitting a playmaker, which he claimed he was, he didn’t perform like one.

CJ was 49th of 51 backs (in FO metrics) with 100 or more carries last year.

Chris Johnson’s Football Outsider career metrics
Year DYAR Rank DVOA Rank Yards EYds Suc Rate Rank
2011 -39 49 -12.5% 49 1,047   824 41% 46
2010 18 31 -7.2% 33 1,365 1,101 39% 40
2009 343  1 15.2%  7 2,006 1,793 45% 32
2008 175  7 9.2% 10 1,228 1,131 44% 35

Don’t think CJ’s shabby performance went unnoticed by fans around the league.  FO readers voted CJ the winner of the Keep Choppin’ Wood Award for 2011 (player who most hurt his team.)  Those who owned CJ in fantasy leagues no doubt cursed him for most of the year as well.

CJ has five years remaining on his new contract.  Fortunately, his guaranteed money is guaranteed only for injury and not for performance.

Titans RBs 2011 stats
RB Att Yards YPA TD Rec Yds YPR TD
Chris Johnson 262 1,047 4.0 4 57 418 7.0 0
Javon Ringer  59  185 3.1 1 28 187 6.7 0
Jamie Harper  17   44 2.6 1  4  32 8.0 0

Titans RBs career stats
RB Att Yards YPA TD Rec Yds YPR TD
Chris Johnson 1187 5,645 4.8 38 194 1,426 7.4 4
Javon Ringer  118  472 4.0  3  35  231 6.6 0

Before CJ finally put a couple of 100-yard games together last year, Javon Ringer was doing a better job.  However, that’s not saying a lot as Ringer finished the season ranked 40th of 45 RBs with 20-99 carries.

The main upside I see in Ringer is that he’s a stronger runner than CJ and he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his body after three NFL seasons.  Ringer is also the Titans best receiving back.  He’s not as dangerous as CJ is in the open field, he’s just better at catching the ball.  Ringer uses his hands to catch the ball like a wide receiver, not his body like many backs do.  You don’t see him making many drops.

This is the final year on Ringer’s contract.

The third string back last year was Jamie Harper, the Titans fourth-round compensatory pick a year ago.  I like Harper’s size and skill set but he really upset me in the Vikings preseason game when he ducked out of bounds a yard short of a first down.  I’d really like to see him have a good camp and challenge for some playing time this fall.

Herb Donaldson was in training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad.  Prior to that, he was on the practice squads of the Cowboys and Saints.  Look for him to be a camp body again this summer.

Finally, the Titans signed RB/WR Darius Reynaud, formerly of the Vikings and Giants, to a futures/reserves contract.  Reynaud has no career rushes or receptions and is primarily a kick return/punt return specialist.  He should compete for a spot in training camp, though I expect he’ll be little more than camp fodder with Marc Mariani as the PR/KR man and Damian Williams as a capable backup.

Although the Titans don’t really “need” another back if CJ returns to form, I hope they draft one if there’s one they like.  If CJ doesn’t return to form, the Titans will need to find someone to be their back of the future and I don’t believe either Ringer or Harper is that back.