Here are some thoughts on old running backs in new places — LaDainian Tomlinson in New York with the Jets, and Larry Johnson in Washington. For a take on another old back in a new place, check out this post on Thomas Jones signing with the Chiefs. And as an added bonus, we’ll compare Tomlinson, Jones, and Johnson as fantasy football options in 2010 at the bottom of this post.
In New York, Tomlinson had a great career in San Diego, but he showed serious signs of slowing down in recent years, with his yards-per-carry average dropping to 3.3 in ’09. So the Chargers eventually had little choice but to release him and move on. With the Jets, Tomlinson should know that he’s taking a subservient role to emerging youngster Shonn Greene, and with Leon Washington returning from an ACL injury, Tomlinson could find carries hard to come by. The positive of that is that Tomlinson will stay fresher, but he’ll have to show a little more patience than he did in San Diego. If Tomlinson knows what he’s signing up for and is willing to be a 10-touch-a-game back, he could help because he provides more contrast to Greene than the departed Thomas Jones would have given. If not, Tomlinson will fade away in a strange-looking uniform, and the two-year, $5.1 million deal the Jets gave him will be wasted. Unfortunately, our hunch points toward the latter scenario.
In Washington, Johnson arrives. Johnson was released in Kansas City midseason last year as his production waned and his complaints persisted. Johnson landed in Cincinnati as a backup to Cedric Benson, and he looked a little better, averaging 4.4 yards per carry in Cincy versus 2.9 in K.C. Now Johnson moves to Washington, where he will either work with Clinton Portis or replace him, depending on what the ‘Skins decide to do with their incumbent veteran back. Since Portis’ contract is basically guaranteed, we figure he’ll be back. That’s just as well, because Johnson is no longer a starting-caliber NFL back. He’s better in the role he had in Cincinnati at the end of last year, and spot duty will allow him to keep the limited pop he has left in his legs. The three-year, $3.5 million deal Johnson got indicates that’s the role he’ll have – but the potential of making up to $12 million in incentives indicates that more malcontent behavior could be in the offing if Johnson doesn’t get the ball as much as he wants.
In fantasy terms, Jones is the best of these three relocated backs. Jones will have to share time with Jamaal Charles, a breakout player last year, but even in that role Jones should be able to pile up at least 800 rushing yards. That, plus six TDs or so, will make him a solid No. 3 fantasy back in most leagues. We see Tomlinson and Johnson as less than that, and strangely, Johnson may have more fantasy upside because of Portis’ lengthy injury history. But the fact that Johnson and Tomlinson have really slowed down makes us skeptical that they’ll be anything more than bye-week fill-ins for fantasy owners this fall.