Chris Johnson was terrible in 2011. He was drafted as a Top 5 overall player but finished as just the No. 17 running back. He finished behind 24 quarterbacks, 10 wide receivers, two tight ends, one kicker and seven DSTs in Fantasy points.
We hope that Johnson's struggles were the result of his contract situation. He signed a six-year deal worth $55 million following a holdout and then managed just eight games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league. He only had four games with 100 rushing yards and scored just four touchdowns. It was easily the worst season of his career.
Coach Mike Munchak blamed Johnson's woes on conditioning and a poor supporting cast, and the Titans seemed to fix both issues. Johnson has been working out with the team in Tennessee this offseason, which is a departure from his normal routine. The Titans also added standout left guard Steve Hutchinson, should get Kenny Britt (torn ACL) back at 100 percent and drafted another receiver in Kendall Wright.
All of these things will help Johnson succeed, and Fantasy owners should still have faith in him as a No. 1 option. He's still worth drafting in Round 1 in all leagues. The best thing about Johnson is he remains a featured running back in a league full of tandems. He is not going to lose carries to the likes of Javon Ringer or Jamie Harper.
As bad as Johnson was in 2011, he still had 319 touches (262 carries and a career-high 57 catches). Only eight running backs had more carries and only four had more total touches. Johnson is going to get his looks, and the production should follow. He has three years of at least 1,480 total yards and 10 touchdowns, and a good barometer for his production this year should be what he did in 2010: 1,609 total yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson is easily capable of doing that again in a comeback campaign.
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|ND -- not expected to get drafted|
Breakout ... Jared Cook, tight end
We hope Cook can build off his strong performance to end 2011. He had 36 Fantasy points in his final three games, all against division opponents, with 21 catches for 335 yards and one touchdown. The problem for Cook is consistency, as he scored just three touchdowns for the season and has just four in three years. But he could be headed toward a breakout campaign after catching 49 passes for 759 yards last year. Even if he duplicates those stats with an additional three touchdowns, that would bring him on the cusp of a Top 10 tight end from last year's stats (he finished as the No. 15 tight end with 83 Fantasy points). Cook is worth drafting as a No. 2 tight end with upside with a late-round pick in the majority of leagues, and hopefully this is the season he has a breakout performance.
Impact rookie ... Kendall Wright, wide receiver
The Titans drafted Wright out of Baylor in the first round of the NFL Draft, and he is expected to earn playing time right away. He could see significant action if Britt is slow in his recovery. Wright was a star at Baylor, where he teamed with fellow first-round pick and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III on 108 catches for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. His career total of 4,004 yards receiving is 1,300 yards more than anyone who preceded him. Speed is the name of his game, but he doesn't have great size (5-foot-10), which is why he could see plenty of time in the slot with Britt and Nate Washington outside. Still, Wright has a ton of upside and is worth drafting in seasonal leagues with a late-round pick. There could be a couple of weeks where Wright ends up starting for Fantasy owners, especially in deeper leagues.
Sleeper ... Jake Locker, quarterback
Locker might not open the season as the starter for the Titans, but he has more upside than Matt Hasselbeck. In the two games where Locker attempted at least 19 passes he had at least 18 Fantasy points in a standard league. By comparison, Hasselbeck had just six games with at least 18 Fantasy points despite starting all 16 games. Locker has a lot to prove before Fantasy owners can count on him, but he's someone to keep on your radar. If he starts for the Titans at any point this season he could post quality stats, and you might end up adding him off the waiver wire. We'll find out how Locker does in an open competition against Hasselbeck in training camp, but we like what we saw from Locker in 2011 and hope for more this year.
Training camp topics
The quarterback battle between Hasselbeck and Locker will be interesting, and Fantasy owners will keep an eye on how Johnson does and where Wright lines up. But the focus will be on Britt and his recovery from last year's torn ACL. Britt suffered the injury in Week 3, but prior to going down he was headed toward a third-year breakout campaign. He had 14 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns in two games, and he could have been a star for Fantasy owners.
|Chris Johnson||262 carries, 57 catches|
|Javon Ringer||59 carries, 28 catches|
|Nate Washington||74 catches, 2 carries|
|Jared Cook||49 catches|
|Lavelle Hawkins||47 catches|
We hope that Britt shows up again, especially with his knee at 100 percent. Injuries are a concern for Britt since he also missed four games in 2010 with hamstring problems, but he has 15 touchdowns in limited action over three seasons and the size (6-foot-3) and skill to succeed.
If his knee is fully healthy, especially after undergoing a second procedure in May, then Britt should be drafted as a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver in Round 4 or 5. But we would be cautious and draft him in Round 5 or 6 as a No. 3 option, and hopefully he can outperform his draft value with an outstanding campaign.
Britt (knee; questionable for the start of training camp) ... Washington (knee; probable for the start of training camp)