David Johnson: Making the Case for RB5
David Johnson: Making the Case for RB5
There are only four running backs I would rather have than David Johnson this year. They are Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Alvin Kamara. In fact, it would not be a huge surprise if Johnson surpassed Elliott or Kamara in fantasy points in 2019. Some of the other running backs being drafted ahead of Johnson all have question marks. Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley have injury concerns. Joe Mixon just lost a top offensive lineman and the Cincinnati Bengals drafted two running backs in April.
The Northern Iowa grad is getting a new coach in Kliff Kingsbury that runs a high tempo offense and likely won’t run him into the middle of the line a la Steve Wilks. Many will argue that Kingsbury never featured the running back position in his Air Raid offenses. That is not totally accurate. DeAndre Washington had back to back 1,000 rushing seasons in 2014 and 2015.
“He’s such a tremendous talent, whether it’s running the football or catching the ball, the screen game,” Kingsbury said. “We’ve got to get him his touches and get him going and make him comfortable in what we do. He’s going to have a major role. There’s no doubt.””-Kliff Kingsbury
Let’s take a look.
This guy gets it done. David Johnson did not perform to his draft position but was still able to pull out an RB9 finish in PPR formats in 2018. To recap, in the three years Johnson has been healthy, he has been RB8, RB1, and RB9. The obvious dip in the chart is from 2017 when he injured his wrist in Week 1.
Johnson has played in 49 games since being drafted 86th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft. In comparison, Melvin Gordon has played in 55 games and Todd Gurley 58. Despite playing in fewer games, DJ has been right there with the big guns with his consistency.
One of the things that helped propel Johnson to the RB1 in 2016 was his 80 catches on 120 targets. While we likely will not see that type of volume in 2019, the ability is there if Kyler Murray finds himself in distress and has to check down. There have been some concerns that no back has ever caught more than 41 passes in a Kingsbury coached offense. That was in college. Texas Tech did not have David Johnson or anyone close to his talent level. As mentioned earlier, Kliff Kingsbury stated at the owner’s meetings that the Cardinals plan to build things around Johnson and that they will operate mostly out of the shotgun.
Even though Johnson only played in one game in 2017 he still managed 6 catches on 9 targets. For his career, the small school phenom has averaged 10.8 yards per reception and has 11 receiving touchdowns.
Data courtesy Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Our very own Michael Zingone does a heck of a job with projections. Zinger has DJ projected at a very attainable 308.4 points. That would have been good enough for RB6 in 2018. This is with Johnson just barely crossing the 1,000-yard rushing threshold and scoring 11.6 touchdowns. The touchdown number may actually go higher than that with a poor defense and an up-tempo offense. Have a look at how the numbers could shake out.
Going back to the well by comparing the three backs from the 2015 draft class, Johnson has two of the top-5 point per opportunity seasons of the three ball carriers. The efficient runner checked in at 1.16 points per opportunity in 2015 and another 1.0 points per opportunity in 2016.
The stars are all aligned for David Johnson to return to top-5 RB status in 2019. A new coach is bringing an up-tempo offense to the desert and a freakishly athletic quarterback will be running the show. The ADP has risen lately as the hype train continues to roll forward for DJ. Johnson is currently being drafted right around RB5 but many rankings have him as the seventh or eighth best back. This is a mistake. The former UNI Panther may win you your league if a return to 2016 form comes to fruition.