Talent and opportunity should be two of the most important characteristics to consider when you are evaluating a player’s fantasy value. Coming out of Northern Iowa, David Johnson always had the talent but now he has the opportunity of a lifetime to supplant himself as a fantasy superstar.
After a rookie season which saw him finish as the number seven overall running back in fantasy points David Johnson’s stock is pointing up. Johnson has a chance to evolve into a dying breed in Fantasy Football: a bell-cow running back. Don’t take it from me, take it from Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.
“David’s earned the right now to be the bell cow”, Arians told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss. “Everybody’s got to take it from him.”
It is understandable to be somewhat skeptical of a second-year running back receiving this much praise but it’s not unfounded after the year Johnson had. Johnson started the year off with a bang by becoming the first player to ever score a rushing, receiving, and kickoff return touchdown in his first two games. Johnson didn’t get the liberty of beginning his rookie year as an NFL starter, as he waited behind Andre Ellington and Chris Johnson, but he sure made an impression when he got his chance.
Over a five-game stretch from week 13 to week 17 David Johnson was simply sublime. Johnson totaled 442 rushing yards over 90 carries giving him a whopping 4.9 yards per carry average. If you extrapolate Johnson’s rushing yards from his five games starting over a 16 game season it would total 1,414 yards. It’s easy to see why I’m giddy about the potential Johnson has.
Let’s get to another reason why David Johnson is a legitimate bell-cow running back candidate: his receiving ability. General Manager Steve Keim told AzCardinals.com what makes him a game-changing running back.
“Just going back and looking at some of the things David did on our tape, from a skill-set standpoint it’s scary,” Keim told both Ron Wolfley and Paul Cavisi. “A 6-foot-1, 226-pound guy who can bend and make lateral cuts like he does, and then to have the ball skills and matchup possibilities out of the backfield. He’s truly a three-down back that has the size and strength to punish in the run game and the skill and athleticism in the passing game.”
The stat sheet can back up how highly the Arizona Cardinals think of David Johnson’s receiving ability. During his five-game starting stint, Johnson totaled 28 receiving targets. That’s an eye-popping average of 5.6 targets a game. This average over a total season would have placed Johnson under only three other running backs in targets per game. His involvement in the passing game will pay dividends for those who draft Johnson in point-per-reception leagues.
Let’s take a quick look at Johnson’s ability as a pass catcher.
In this clip, he lines up as the slot receiver on the right side of the formation. Johnson shows a quick jump out of his break at the top of his route and ends up gaining separation in the blink of an eye. Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks can’t match Johnson’s quickness and ends up slipping while trying to track down Johnson. This is the kind of matchup nightmare that Johnson gives opposing defensive coordinators.
This time, Johnson torments linebacker Eric Kendricks out of the backfield. This is an example of how smooth Johnson looks when he changes directions. There is seemingly no wasted movement in his route as he makes it look too easy.
The situation for David Johnson almost looks too good to be true in 2016. Johnson is a part of one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL. The Cardinals boasted a 327.5 yard per game average which places them among the NFL’s elite. The Arizona Cardinals also own one of the better offensive lines in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked the Cardinals as the number four overall run blocking group in the league. They also improved their run blocking prowess by adding guard Evan Mathis in free agency who is known for ability drive back defensive linemen.
When you consider all of these points it is hard to dismiss Johnson. Another very appealing aspect to David Johnson is the lack of elite competition to take snaps away from him. The Cardinals re-signed Chris Johnson with the likely intention of being a change of pace option for when Johnson needs a breather. Andre Ellington remains on the roster but saw very little opportunity last year even when Chris Johnson went down with a fractured tibia. This puts Johnson in the driver seat to not only be a bell-cow running back but also a surefire lock to be the team’s goal-line running back. While it is very difficult to try and project touchdowns for any individual player it would not seem far fetched for Johnson to at least match his 2015 touchdown total of 13 with additional playtime. In a fantasy football world where first rounders can turn around to bite you, I believe that David Johnson has both the talent and opportunity to alleviate any worries and emerge as a superstar in all league formats.