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Larry Johnson: Wasted Talent Or Opportunity?

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The Kansas City Chiefs took a gamble on a one-year wonder in 2002 when they signed Penn State RB Larry Johnson.

That season while in college he set the nation on fire with 2,000+ yards and 20 TD’s but once he got into the league the same success was hard to come by– at first.

The Chiefs already had All Pro Priest Holmes on the roster so the addition of Johnson was just an insurance policy in case Holmes suffered another injury. Johnson waited his time and when Holmes did go down in 2005 Johnson took the NFL by storm.

For two years he was the best back in the league. His 2005 and 2006 season were outstanding as he rushed for 1,750 and 1,789 respectively while adding another 40 TD’s both on the ground and receiving. Holmes days were numbered in Kansas City as the Chiefs now had their back for what they hope would be the next 10 years but life in the NFL doesn’t always goes as planned.

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The Chiefs signed their new face of the franchise to a mega-deal in 2007 for 6-years and $45 million with $19 million being guaranteed. Needless to say he was rewarded well. But once the inked was dry on that paper so was his career.

Johnson never played a full season again in the NFL and his highest total after the contract was for 874 yards. Injures and inconsistency played a huge role in his demise while some tend to think his ego got so inflated that he lost focus on what made him special in the first place.

After the Chiefs finally waived him in 2009 due to too many on-field and off-field issues he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals but was delegated to bench duties.

In 2010 he signed a three-year deal with the Washington Redskins in hopes to revive his career, but that lasted all of two games and five carries. He gave it one more shot in 2011 when he signed with the Miami Dolphins but didn’t make it out of training camp.

Looking over his career no one can truly say when and where it all went wrong for Johnson but at a closer look you can see a slight pattern. In college it was average (season), average, average, then boom (explosion). It was the same with the pros. Average, average, the boom (explosion) but after that explosive (contract) year he went back to being himself.

Did he overachieve? Did injuries and an oversize ego ruin him? Maybe it was a combination of both that was his downfall but I do know watching him play for those two seasons was special.

Image if we were robbed of the greatness of Barry Sanders, Walter Payton or Emmitt Smith for only two seasons instead of the longevity they had throughout their careers. That’s how I feel about Johnson– we were robbed.

Or maybe we were just fooled.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com