The San Diego Chargers faced a rushing crisis at the end of last season. Both starter LaDanian Tomlinson and backup Darren Sproles were at the end of their contracts and the Chargers had to figure out what to do. Sign one? Both? Neither? Eventually, they signed Tomlinson to a three year deal, put the franchise tag on Sproles and then gave him a one-year deal. Both backs are expected to share time this season.
Here's the problem: it's likely that neither one of them will be back next season. Tomlinson was the greatest running back in the NFL for a long time, but he is noticeably wearing down. All those years and all that work has taken a toll on his body and it's all but certain that he will miss time this year with injury. Even if he's healthy, his performance is declining-- in 2008 his 3.8 yds/carry average was the lowest of his career, and significantly lower than his pre-2008 career average of 4.5 yds/carry.
Sproles stepped in and finished up the season well (especially a 115 rushing yard game in Week 17) but he's not the long-term answer. Sproles is probably the smallest (5'6") and least-experienced (only 106 carries in his career) running back ever to receive his team's franchise tag. While he fills his role well, he isn't a solid 25-carry per game running back. If Tomlinson were to go down this season, the Chargers would be hurting if they only had Sproles to carry the load.
Which is why the Chargers spent a fourth-round pick on Gartrell Johnson, a sturdy running back from Colorado State who just might be the Chargers starter next season. Johnson has been described as "strong, powerful, physical" by the Houston Chronicle where Johnson impressed scouts at the East-West Shrine Game. While he impressed scouts, he's going to be maddening to fantasy owners in 2009.
Johnson probably won't see much time this season which makes his 2009 fantasy value essentially zero. So why do I say he'll drive you nuts?
If Tomlinson or Sproles were to suffer a major injury, Johnson should be at the top of your waiver wire list. That's simple enough.
However, here's what I think will happen: LT will suffer occasional nagging injuries (probably occurring mid-game so owners can't plan for them) and Johnson will come into the game and finish with a total around 3 carries for 17 yards and 1 TD. The next two games he won't play, then he'll come off the bench and finish with 7 carries for 24 yards and a touchdown. It will go on like this for the entire season with Johnson scoring just often enough to make you feel stupid, but not often enough to be worth a pickup.
Get ready for Gartrell Johnson to drive you fricking crazy this year. Next year, he could be a second round fantasy draft pick. If you have the ability to outlast the craziness and keep him, he could be a gold mine in 2010.