When the New York Jets signed Chris Johnson on Wednesday, they added one of the NFL's rarest commodities: a member of the 2,000-yard club. CJ2K is one of just seven running backs in league history to accomplish this feat. The three-time Pro Bowler is used to noteworthy company, though. Just look back at the 2008 NFL Draft, which produced one of the most memorable running back classes in recent history. Consider this list of backs taken that year:
Darren McFadden, Round 1 (No. 4 overall)
Jonathan Stewart, Round 1 (13)
Felix Jones, Round 1 (22)
Rashard Mendenhall, Round 1 (23)
Chris Johnson, Round 1 (24)
Matt Forte, Round 2 (44)
Ray Rice, Round 2 (55)
Jamaal Charles, Round 3 (73)
Given that Johnson is at a crucial turning point in his football life -- latching on with the Jets after having been cast aside by the Titans team with which he made history -- this seems an appropriate time to reassess that RB class. When it's all said and done, which back drafted in 2008 will have enjoyed the best overall NFL career?
CJ2K is Mr. Consistency, and a reduced workload could prove beneficialFirst of all, it's stunning to see this many running backs selected so high, considering there wasn't one first-round back last year and there probably won't be one this year, either. I still maintain that Chris Johnson will be judged the best of that golden-age bunch. Much was made of Johnson's drop-off after he received a big contract from the Tennessee Titans, but a dispassionate look at the stats shows a remarkably consistent runner who has maintained a heavy workload. He has run for more than 1,000 yards every season (including the 2,000-yard campaign, of course) while averaging 45 receptions per year.
Rex Ryan's New York Jets have routinely fielded a sturdy running attack, but they've never featured a back with this kind of breakaway speed. With a reduced workload, Johnson could actually enjoy a bit of a renaissance in his second act.
Forte or Charles? My crystal ball says ...I think the key in answering this question is looking into the crystal ball. Ray Rice's play declined last year and now he's facing off-the-field issues. To me, it comes down to Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte -- and I'm going with the latter.
Forte's been a consistently strong runner and receiver out of the backfield for the Chicago Bears. And in pondering future numbers, I see him continuing to thrive in Marc Trestman's offense.
One of these backs clearly stands above the restChris Johnson clearly ranks as the best running back of the 2008 class. He topped the 2,000-yard mark in his second season, and he's reeled off six straight 1,000-yard campaigns. While Ray Rice and Matt Forte have been outstanding players, they haven't touched rarefied air in any statistical category. Thus, I believe CJ2K will go down as the premier running back of the group.
Johnson edges out Rice with 2,000-yard trump cardIt's between Chris Johnson and Ray Rice. Both of these backs have enjoyed terrific careers, so this is not an easy decision. In the end, my vote goes to Johnson.
What tilts it, to me, is his 2,000-yard season -- a truly rare achievement in this league. Also, Johnson has produced at a high level with a lesser supporting cast. For most of Johnson's career with the Tennessee Titans, he was the only offensive player opponents really had to key on. Johnson never had a quarterback as good as Rice had in Baltimore's Joe Flacco. Finally, Johnson's breakaway speed puts more pressure on the defense every play than Rice's grind-it-out style.