Nearly three years later, and some things never change.
I remember watching Eastern Carolina take on Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl back in December of 2007. Relatively unknown Chris Johnson was known amongst some around college football, but nothing near today’s status as the best back in football.
I watched him put up 223 yards on the ground, including a 68-yarder that he housed putting Boise up 10-7 in the first quarter. Not only that, he also chipped in 32 yards receiving and 153 yards returning kicks, good for an NCAA bowl-record 408 all-purpose yards.
I was amazed. Players such as Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, and others stole the headlines in college in 2007. But this Chris Johnson guy? Wow. More explosive than any of them. And forget a dime. If there was any currency smaller than a dime, C.J. could cut on that. Why had I never seen him before?
As I watched Johnson play, I started thinking to myself. The Dallas Cowboys needed a running back after the 2007 season. Julius Jones was listed as a starter, but his contract was set to run out at the end of the season, and Marion Barber was clearly the more effective back. While running back wasn’t a position of need, perhaps Johnson could slide down to the Cowboys in round three?
Chris Johnson is the most explosive running back in the NFL, scoring a touchdown run of 50+ yards in 8 of 32 contests. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images North America)
Ha. Not a chance. If people hadn’t heard of Johnson during the season, they heard of him when he exploded out of the blocks and posted a 4.25 40-yard-dash time. He was selected 24th overall in the 2008, two slots after Dallas selected running back Felix Jones. The type of blazing speed Johnson possesses has made C.J. one of, if not the NFL’s best running backs. Johnson set the NFL on fire in 2009 as he became only the sixth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season with 2,006.
Johnson is the epitome of the big play. Entering his third year, C.J. has 8 plays of 50+ yard touchdown runs, in just 32 games. Let me say that one more time. He has a touchdown run of 50 yards or longer in 25% of his career games.
Unreal. The scary part is that it is not out of the realm of possibility for him to not only keep it up, he might even…improve? No one is going to catch him from behind. That’s just not going to happen. Point blank. However, most backs like C.J. get their big runs by getting to the corner. Johnson has a unique ability for a back with his speed. Several of his long runs — like his most current 76-yard TD in week one — are inside runs, not outside runs. And what’s the shortest distance between two points? A straight line. Unlike other scat backs who look to run laterally and get to the corner, Johnson can run inside, and going north and south will net you far more yards than east and west.
C.J. doesn’t have the power that Adrian Peterson has, but his burst, top-end speed, and incredible feet make him the superior back. There’s still a long season ahead, but Johnson just might be the first back in NFL history to surpass 2,000 yards rushing in two consecutive seasons.