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Four Downs: Chris Johnson struggling

10/4/2010

While disappointing for those who selected Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson first overall, it was understandable that he had a rough Week 2 game, considering the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers were the opponent. I mean, we can't expect Johnson to run wild every week. He bounced back with 125 yards and two touchdowns against the New York Giants in Week 3, and all was well in the fantasy world. And then "Week 2" happened again.

Johnson laid another proverbial fantasy egg Sunday when he couldn't pillage the Denver Broncos for any more than 53 yards on 19 carries, ending with four fantasy points (he lost a fumble). Really, the Broncos? As a result, in odd weeks this season, the supposed best player in fantasy football is averaging 25 fantasy points. In even weeks, it's three points. I'm not one to panic or focus on the negative, or suggest a ridiculous every-other-week trend is legitimate, but I know many people are discussing this rather than LaDainian Tomlinson or Sunday's other top performances. Johnson was the first overall pick in just about every fantasy draft this season, a guy who rambled for 2,000 yards in 2009 and kept telling people how he would not only do it again, but end up near 2,500. That can't happen if you can't run all over the Broncos, and now we have to wonder if the "can't-miss pick" can miss.

Now let's not get crazy here. It would be foolish to trade Johnson in fantasy this week, because it would be difficult to get full value for him. Then again, what is that value? ESPN Fantasy projected only 1,665 rushing yards for Johnson, plus another 491 through the air, and 293 overall points, still No. 1, but a downgrade from 2009. Through four games, Johnson is averaging 14 fantasy points per game, a pace for 224. That doesn't stink; only four running backs topped 224 points last season (Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice). Of course, Johnson topped it by 105 points. Hey, he's no Arian Foster!

If I owned Johnson in any leagues, I wouldn't trade him for scrubs, but I'd arrive at the realization he's probably not going to have the same season he did in 2009, or anything close to it. The schedule remains relatively attractive in theory, but then again, opposing defenses might keep forcing Vince Young to beat them. In the final four weeks, Johnson faces the Colts twice. You have to like that. He's still a RB1, but he looks mortal now. It's not time to panic, but Sunday's game reminded us how difficult it is for a star running back to be a star every time out.

Here are a few more noticeable things from Sunday's action:

Second down: From a fantasy sense, there were few winners coming from the unwatchable Washington Redskins-Philadelphia Eagles game Sunday, but Redskins running back Ryan Torain was one. While I was impressed by how well Clinton Portis performed, consistently finding holes in the Philly defense, he also left early with a groin injury, and his age and lack of durability bear mentioning again. Torain vaulted to must-own status with his performance. Coach Mike Shanahan is up to his old tricks, releasing perceived next-in-line Keiland Williams before the weekend. Torain might not pass a healthy Portis this week, but what if Portis isn't healthy? As for Donovan McNabb (eight completions), Santana Moss (zero receptions) and pretty much all the Eagles, it's tough to be impressed. LeSean McCoy had a big day because of second-half screen passes, but on Monday we found out he fractured a rib in the process. It might be Kevin Kolb and Mike Bell in Week 5. Ugh.

Third down: Good for LaDainian Tomlinson, I say. We projected him for a big week against the Buffalo Bills, and he came through with flying colors. However, original starter Shonn Greene also looked strong, and while we can call his 117 rushing yards tainted because it was a blowout game and both teams just wanted to go home in the second half, I maintain Greene will still have a rather large role in fantasy seasons. Tomlinson isn't young, and I doubt he's going to get so many touches in Week 17 when the Jets have a playoff berth sewn up and meet ... the Bills again! Perhaps you can swing a deal to get Greene?

Fourth down: I've reached the point where I'm concerned about all fantasy-relevant Arizona Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald keeps getting a ton of targets, but when Derek Anderson passes are going all over the stadium, it doesn't help Fitzgerald produce fantasy points. One would think Fitzgerald could catch the occasional touchdown as his team is being blown out, as in Sunday's 41-10 pasting at San Diego, but it's not happening. Beanie Wells suffered this week as well. I want to be patient with Wells, but it's tough to rely on him. This coming week, the Saints visit. Drew Brees could make it another blowout early, rendering the running game meaningless.