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Tale of the Tape: Chris Johnson vs. Chris Ivory

By Jared Smola 8:17am EDT 4/17/14

Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson form the NFL’s newest “thunder and lightning” backfield. But how exactly will the touches – and fantasy points – be divvied between them? Let’s take a closer look at how Ivory and Johnson compare to get an idea of what the Jets’ 2014 backfield will look like.


Size

Ivory is a 6’0, 222-pound muscle-bound monster. He plays big, too. He forced 37 missed tackles last year, per Pro Football Focus. That was 10th-most in the league. Ivory ranked 3rd with 3.0 yards after contact per carry.

Johnson checks in at 5’11 and 203 pounds. He’s wiry and doesn’t break many tackles. PFF credited Johnson with 16 fewer missed tackles forced than Ivory last year, despite carrying 97 more times. Johnson managed just 1.8 yards after contact per carry.

Edge: Ivory


Durability

This has always been a problem for Ivory. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in his final college campaign. He missed time with foot and hamstring issues in New Orleans. And he missed 1 game this past year with a bum hammy. Ivory has yet to play a full 16-game season.

Johnson, on the other hand, has never missed a game due to injury. He’s played 16 games an impressive 5 straight years. The only game he’s ever sat out was a meaningless season finale back in 2008.

Johnson underwent knee surgery this offseason to repair a torn meniscus. He turns 29 in September and has over 2,000 NFL touches under his belt. He figures to be dealing with plenty of aches and pains going forward. But Johnson has a clear edge over Ivory in the durability department.

Edge: Johnson


Inside running

Ivory’s frame and violent running style would seem to make him the ideal inside runner. But he averaged just 3.4 yards on 110 carries inside the tackles last year, according to PFF.

Most of the blame goes to the Jets’ offensive line, though. As a team, they averaged a meager 3.6 yards per carry between the tackles. Ivory was a much more effective inside runner in 3 seasons with the Saints, posting a 4.1-yard average.

Johnson has always made his dough on the edges. But he’s also able to use his quickness and acceleration to get the job done between the tackles. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry there in his 2,000-yard 2009 season. That number sunk to 3.7 in 2010, then 3.1 in 2011. Johnson averaged a whopping 6.0 yards per carry between the tackles in 2012. He dropped back to 4.0 this past year.

Johnson’s inconsistency as an insider runner is a result of his boom-or-bust style. He’s always looking for the big play – and he often finds it. But the dancing behind the line of scrimmage also results in lots of negative plays. That’s become a bigger issue over the past couple seasons.

At this point of their respective careers, we’d take Ivory as the superior inside runner.

Edge: Ivory


Outside running/Big-play ability

No contest here. Johnson is one of the top big-play backs in NFL history. He’s had runs of 76, 91 and 94 yards. His 18 gains of 40+ over the past 6 years rank 2nd behind only Adrian Peterson. Johnson has another 5 plays of 40+ yards in the passing game.

Now, Johnson isn’t the big-play threat that he was in his prime. His runs of 40+ yards have decreased in 4 straight seasons, bottoming out at 5 this past year.

But Johnson still has a clear edge over Ivory in this category. Ivory has just 4 career runs of 40+ yards. Of course, he hasn’t had nearly as many chances as Johnson. But Ivory has just one 40+ yarder for every 110 carries. Johnson has 1 every 97 carries.

Edge: Johnson


Pass-catching and blocking

Ivory doesn’t offer much as a receiver. He’s totaled just 5 catches across his first 4 NFL seasons. This past year, his first as a lead back, Ivory managed to haul in just 2 of 7 targets for 10 yards. PFF ranked him 53rd among 55 RBs in receiving.

Ivory is also a subpar pass-blocker. He allowed 1 sack and 5 QB hurries in 42 chances last season, finishing 41st in PFF’s rankings.

Johnson, meanwhile, has compiled 272 catches in his first 6 seasons. Only 3 RBs have more over that span. Johnson has averaged a solid 7.4 yards per grab and scored 8 receiving TDs, including a career-high 4 in 2013.

He’s a liability in pass protection, though. Johnson finished 6 spots below Ivory’s in last year’s PFF grades. He’s never ranked higher than 36th. Still, Johnson’s receiving ability makes him New York’s best back in passing situations.

Edge: Johnson


Contract

Hey, it matters. Everyone from the owner to the GM to the HC knows how much guys are making. And it can impact playing time.

The Jets gave Johnson a 2-year, $8 million deal, including a $3 million signing bonus. It was the richest contract given to a free-agent RB this offseason.

The final 2 years on Ivory’s deal with the Jets will pay him $3 million total.

Edge: Johnson


So what does it mean for your fantasy football team?

Ivory and Johnson truly look like perfect complements. One is a big-bodied between-the-tackles pounder. The other is “space” player who is still dangerous in the open field. One is excellent in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The other is a plus pass-catcher. You can bet the Jets coaches are well aware of these contrasting styles and are already formulating backfield plans.

Ivory will certainly be the preferred option near the goal line. Johnson will be the primary pass-catching back.

It’s the early-down ball-carrying work that’s up in the air. The general consensus will likely have Johnson getting the majority of that action. He’s the bigger name. The former 2,000-yard rusher.

But Ivory might be the better pure runner at this point. He averaged .7 more yards per carry than Johnson last year. Think Ivory was running behind the better offensive line? Nuh uh. The Jets ranked 31st in Pro Football Focus’ run-blocking grades. Johnson’s Titans, meanwhile, finished 5th. Not surprisingly, Ivory finished 10 spots ahead of Johnson in PFF’s running grades.

The numbers say Ivory should be on the sunny side of the Jets’ committee backfield. We’ll see if Johnson’s more lucrative contract plays a part in the game plan.

New York will deploy a run-first offense in 2014. They ranked 5th in rushing attempts last year and project to be among the run-heaviest teams again this season. Both Ivory and Johnson could average 10+ carries per game. That wouldn’t elevate either above RB3 or flex status, though.

Ivory will need to stay healthy and capitalize on his TD chances to reach RB2 territory in non-PPR leagues. Johnson can produce as a RB2 in PPR leagues if he rediscovers his big-play ability and takes advantage of his pass-catching opportunities. When both guys are on the field, though, neither’s ceiling will extend any higher.

We’ll have complete projections for the Jets backfield available for DS Insiders in June.

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