Cleat Geeks

#ManCrush Monday Series: David Johnson

This is the first of a series of articles that will all include the hashtag #ManCrush in which I will highlight specific players that I have fallen in love with in terms of fantasy football and why I am excited about their 2018 season and beyond. 

 

The 2016 season was the year that I started my first dynasty league with friends from college and through randomization I was granted the second pick for the startup draft. Odell Beckham Jr. was taken with the first overall pick. While it may seem like I would have had a tough decision between backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, and Le’Veon Bell or receivers like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and DeAndre Hopkins, I had my eyes set one one person only: DAVID JOHNSON.

The first time the NFL, and myself, got a look at David Johnson was in week 1 of the 2015 season against the Saints. After a knee injury took starter Andre Ellington out of the game late in the third quarter, the backfield was left to veteran Chris Johnson, who the Cardinals had not signed until mid-August, and rookie David Johnson, a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa. Chris Johnson helped chew the clock as Arizona maintained a slight lead, but managed only 37 yards on 10 carries. As the clock ticked down under two minutes, David Johnson came in to relieve the elder Johnson. On his first NFL play, he took a pass in the flat and burst up the sideline on route to a 55-yard touchdown to seal the win for the Cardinals.

 

Johnson’s next NFL touch came the following week against the Bears, this time on special teams. To open the game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Johnson took the kickoff deep in his own end zone and weaved his way up the middle to the 25 yard line before turning on the jets on what ended up as a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Later in the game, he added a rushing touchdown to become the first player to score a rushing, receiving and kick-return touchdown within his team’s first two games of the season since Willie Galimore of the 1958 Chicago Bears.

Fast forward to week 13 where, after Chris Johnson suffered a fractured tibia in week 12, David Johnson got his first NFL start. He did not disappoint. In a division win over the St. Louis Rams, Johnson carried the ball 22 times for 99 yards and added 21 yards and a touchdown through the air on two catches. Johnson put up a similar stat line in week 14 (19-92-0-5-31-0) against the Vikings before exploding for 229 total yards and three rushing touchdowns against the Eagles on a career-high 33 touches.

All in all, David Johnson finished the 2015 season with 581 yards and 8 touchdowns on 125 carries to go along with 36 receptions for 457 yards and 4 touchdowns. He was a major part of the Cardinals 13-3 regular season, although even his best couldn’t overcome the turnovers that Carson Palmer made in their eventual defeat in the NFC Championship game.

I went back and looked at his combine numbers and highlights. What really sold me was Amazon’s original series All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals. If you don’t yet see why I was so confident drafting him going into 2016, start reading this article from the top again, and make sure you click the links this time.

In 2016, Johnson picked up right where he left off, giving the Cardinals and fantasy owners everything they had hoped for and more. In the first year of my dynasty league, he carried me to a 12-1 record and a fantasy championship. Over the first 15 games of the season, Johnson had over 100 total yards in every single game. He surpassed 2,000 total yards and scored 20 total touchdowns, the first player to do so since 2006 MVP LaDainian Tomlinson. In just his second year, despite the Cardinals 6-8-1 record, Johnson was in the conversation for both Offensive Player of the Year as well as MVP, and had a chance to become only the third player in NFL history to have both 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in one season, drawing comparisons to Marshall Faulk. However, in the final game of the season, Johnson left the game with an apparent knee injury in the first quarter after being tackled awkwardly by the Rams’ Alec Ogletree and Eugene Sims. This brought his season to an end.

Following recovery and rehabilitation for his sprained MCL, Johnson was ready to go at it again in 2017, determined to reach the mark he nearly eclipsed the season before: 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Unfortunately, his season ended almost before it began. In week 1, Johnson suffered a dislocated wrist that he would ultimately not come back from. I actually attended the week 1 game in Detroit, and my hopes for a repeat championship went right out the door with the Cardinals’ hopes for a rebound season.

So now we wait to see what happens in 2018. Johnson’s wrist will certainly be fully recovered by training camp if it isn’t already, and we know what he is capable of. If you forgot, here‘s a reminder.

The main point of discussion is the coaching changes. Bruce Arians has been replaced by new head coach Steve Wilks, who had success as a defensive coordinator and assistant head coach under Ron Rivera in Carolina in 2017. He has assembled his coaching staff led by new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, who worked under Wilks as the Panthers’ linebacker coach, and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who has experience both as an offensive coordinator and head coach. Their main goal was to address the quarterback position, as they had none under contract. The coaching staff, along with general manager Steve Keim, was aggressive free agency, and although they missed out on Case Keenum and Kirk Cousins, they were able to land both Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. They will most likely add another quarterback in the draft as well.

Regardless of who the Cardinals start at quarterback, Johnson will be the foundation of the offense. Wilks acknowledges the fact that the NFL is a pass-happy league, but says “…there’s nothing more demoralizing to a defense than being able to run the ball.” Johnson is one of the best dual-threat backs in the league and will allow the Cardinals to establish the run and open up the passing game as well, taking what the defense gives them. The return of Larry Fitzgerald also significantly improves the outlook of the offense. The 34 year old future first-ballot Hall of Famer is coming off a third straight season of 100+ catches and 1,000+ receiving yards and will help out a new quarterback as well as reduce the number of stacked boxes Johnson faces.

I know I’m excited to have David Johnson back, and the Cardinals are too. Don’t forget about him when you are drafting this fall.

Thanks for reading, find me on Twitter @brad_petrowitz and send me any thoughts or questions you may have!

 

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