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Four Downs: Is CJ2K now OK?

10/21/2012

Ah, the most polarizing player in fantasy football is at it again. No, I don't mean Tim Tebow. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson has pretty much tormented fantasy owners since the start of last season with his inconsistency, but there was nothing annoying about his performance Sunday. He shredded a woeful Buffalo Bills defense for 195 rushing yards, two touchdowns and a Week 7-best 31 fantasy points, with most of the production by halftime. But haven't we been down this road before? If you're a Johnson owner, you've become conditioned to sigh, look to the sky, sigh again and ask aloud to nobody in particular when he'll break your heart again.

More often than not, bad news has come the next week, but even that seems unlikely in this case with another soft matchup pending. I wouldn't call myself jaded, but as I shook my head in relative awe at what the talented CJ2K accomplished in just the first quarter Sunday, scoring two touchdowns while barely being touched -- Johnson hadn't scored a touchdown in 11 games and 200 touches -- and topping the century mark in rushing, I was thinking sell high, sell high! Not in a Shonn Greene-from-Week 6 kind of way, because Johnson is a supremely talented player, but a fantasy owner can be burned by one player only so many times. Or perhaps not.

After topping 2,000 yards in 2009, Johnson was really good in 2010, but not the best in the game. He was a megabust in 2011, and entering Sunday he had totaled 34 fantasy points, or precisely the number of fantasy points the Jets' Greene secured in Week 6 alone. And Greene isn't that good. As of Sunday morning, Johnson had fewer fantasy points than an incredible 176 individuals/defenses, including 25 kickers, 19 defenses, Jake Locker, Cedric Benson and Brandon Stokley, to name a few. And Johnson was the eighth overall pick in ESPN average live drafts! If I owned Johnson in any leagues, I admit I would rush to cash in the first chance possible, and this is it.

Johnson will surely move back into my top 20 running backs for my end-of-season rankings Tuesday (he was 23rd), but I'd still trade him for anyone else in that top 20 and any top-15 wide receiver, as he remains an inconsistent risk seemingly too reliant on matchups. Johnson, averaging 3.3 yards per rush entering Sunday, hasn't had anywhere to run previously, but the Bills made it happen. Playing all your running backs against the Bills would be one obvious storyline, but it's not breaking news. In Week 8, Johnson draws the Indianapolis Colts, the same poor run defense that Greene slaughtered in Week 6. Oh, so sell high after that game, right? That might be your last chance. Johnson should struggle in Weeks 9 and 10 against the defensively proficient Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins. I'd certainly take Doug Martin, Reggie Bush or Marques Colston for him, or a two-for-one deal like Mikel Leshoure/Miles Austin or Fred Jackson/DeSean Jackson.

Well, is it really that easy? Johnson was active in 93 percent of leagues this week, so clearly his owners either saw the great matchup in Buffalo or had no other choices. Johnson was a first-round pick, after all. I just don't know anyone, after seeing the past 13 months of games, who would fall for this, within reason. I think Johnson still can be a worthy RB2 this season, but if he gets there via the all-or-nothing method, that's a problem. Heck, he even has a touchdown handcuff in Jamie Harper to deal with now, as Harper scored twice Sunday. I'm selling, not expecting elite talent back, but surely better than a few days ago. Enjoy this. Move on. And thank Chris Johnson -- and the NFL schedule makers for giving them the Bills -- for Week 7!

Second down: Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew was the player chosen directly after Chris Johnson in ESPN average draft position, but his Sunday didn't go quite as well. Faced with his own terrific matchup in Oakland, Jones-Drew hurt his left foot early, left via cart and was seen with a boot and crutches by halftime. In other words, this looked bad. Rashad Jennings, so popular during the preseason Jones-Drew holdout and then dropped in most leagues by Week 2, stepped up with 28 touches, 102 total yards and a touchdown, and he'll be one of the signature pickups this week. As of Sunday night, we don't know how long Jones-Drew will be out. Jennings (owned in 13 percent of ESPN leagues) is no star himself, and he averaged barely 2 yards per rush against the Raiders, but he's a must-own now.

Third down: Man, the New Orleans Saints make things fun in fantasy, don't they? Quarterback Drew Brees delivered his fifth game with three or more touchdown passes in six chances, but I'm talking about the defense. It's a disaster, and it allowed Tampa Bay Buccaneers Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin to combine for 72 fantasy points. Freeman underwhelmed the first month, so it's likely that his big Sunday with 420 passing yards was more about the Saints than a return to 2010 glory. Jackson and Martin, however, don't come with the same warnings. Jackson, who frankly should have had a bigger fantasy game -- he somehow was caught before the end zone on a 95-yard catch -- is a terrific talent and doesn't need Freeman to be good for him to thrive. Martin finally topped 12 fantasy points, although hopefully more touchdown opportunities will come his way after the bigger LeGarrette Blount fell on his face Sunday in short-yardage chances. Freeman remains a fantasy backup and nothing more, but Jackson and Martin are potential top-10 finishers at their positions, fellows you shouldn't sell high on.

Fourth down: Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis was the seventh-most active option at his position this week despite disappointing season numbers (29 fantasy points through six games), but now that season is over after he tore his Achilles on Sunday. Davis had upside, but he wasn't remotely showing it, so this isn't that tough a loss in fantasy. Then again, tight end production continues to drop week to week, with 11 fantasy points topping this position in Week 7 until Rob Gronkowski and Dustin Keller bettered it in the late afternoon games. Davis backup Logan Paulsen, who caught 76 yards' worth of passes Sunday, appears the next emerging option in deep formats, unless the team brings back former All-Pro Chris Cooley. Now that would make things interesting.