There's a new Rudi in town! (No, it's not one of my favorite MLB players from the 70's, Joe Rudi) Wait, there was never a Rudi in town. Anyway...
The Detroit Lions signed free agent running back Rudi Johnson yesterday, after his being released by the Cincinnati Bengals.
If you listened to callers on The Fan and The Ticket, or held your nose long enough to wade into newspaper comment threads (I'm looking at you, Killer's acolytes at Mlive. Talk about mob rule, or the blind leading the blind...), you'd think the Lions just signed the next coming of Rudi Johnson...of 2005.
There's a reason Johnson was available on the waiver wire, folks. Johnson was AWFUL last season. He was a shadow of the back who averaged 1400 yards and 343 rushing attempts a season from 2004-06. In fact, his stats have been on a downward trend since his career year of '05. Even in '06, when Johnson ran for 1309 yards, he only averaged 3.8 YPC. That wasn't a good sign. Neither is his 340+ carry workload over those season, as backs only have so many in their bodies before they begin to breakdown.
The breakdown hit warp speed in 2007, as Johnson was just another guy, not a franchise back. He fell from 7th in the NFL in rushing to 49th, with 497 yards, and an alarming 2.9 YPC. Yes, he was hampered by a hamstring injury, as shown by his only appearing in 11 games. But that 2.9 YPC is an alarming stat.
After hobnobbing with the likes of Steven Jackson and Brian Westbrook in the 2006 stat book, Johnson was out rushed by the likes of of Adrian Peterson (not the Vikings' All-Pro, but the bad one with the Bears) and Najeh Davenport, who's better known for his hygiene practices (or lack thereof) than as a running back.
Is Johnson an upgrade over Tatum Bell, whom the Lions released last night? (And isn't the Dre' Bly trade looking better and better...for the Broncos?) Of course, but being an upgrade over Bell is faint praise, at best. Christ, most any running back in the NFL, AFL, NCAA, NAIA, and in the pickup game down on the corner sandlot, would have been an upgrade over Bell.
It's worth taking a flier on Johnson, as it didn't cost the Lions anything but money. (And not much money at that, as we all know the Lions are in cap Hell) The Lions are now a little better at a position that had absolutely no depth. But knowing Rod Marinelli's odd thought processes (11 defensive linemen? Leigh Bodden isn't starting? What the fuck?), my worry is Johnson will take carries away from Kevin Smith, who deserves to get the majority of carries this season. Now? I'm not so sure.
Before getting all excited over Rudi Johnson wearing the Honolulu blue and silver, just remember this...He was beat out by Chris Perry in Cincy. If that isn't a red flag as to what Johnson has left...