AAC Best of the Best: Chris Johnson
by Jackson Wang
Aug 12, 2014 12:59 PM EDT
East Carolina has not been known for producing NFL studs. That was until a young man from Orlando, Fla., arrived in Greensville, N.C., in 2004.
Chris Johnson wasn’t a household name coming out of high school. He wasn’t highly recruited either, selecting ECU over Eastern Kentucky and UConn. But by the time that his four-year stay was up with the Pirates, most people in the nation knew of Johnson.
He made an immediate impact his freshman year in 2004, gaining nearly 800 combined yards and seven touchdowns in 11 games. That was good enough to place Johnson on the Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
His stellar freshman season catapulted Johnson to the starting running back position in his second year at ECU. He went on to have another strong season with eight touchdowns and over 1,000 combined receiving and rushing yards, to set up a potential breakout year in 2006.
But in his junior season, neck surgery during spring practice limited Johnson’s production for the year. Still, he had an impact, especially in late October 2006 when he returned a kickoff return for a touchdown that helped the Pirates beat Southern Miss in overtime.
Johnson had his breakout season in his final campaign for ECU in 2007. He went on to rush for over 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns that year. Johnson contributed to the offense with over 500 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
In Johnson’s final collegiate game against Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl, he had an NCAA record 408 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns en route to a 41-38 win.
Johnson left one more impression before departing for the NFL by clocking a 4.24 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That tied the all-time mark, but for those who were familiar with Johnson, it wasn't a surprise.
In high school, he finished second in the 100 meters at the 2004 Florida 4A state championships. Walter Dix, who went on to earn a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, finished first that year.
Given his strong track background and stellar college career, it came as no surprise when Johnson was taken in the first round by the Tennessee Titans in 2007.