Expectations are high for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016 and one of the reasons is the emergence of their dynamic running back, David Johnson.
When you look at what Johnson did in the final 7 weeks of the season, it gave a peek into what could be with Johnson being the bell cow on offense. Knowing how good he was, though, I wanted to know what he did compared to history of running backs, especially with the change in usage.
Johnson saw only 125 regular season carries in 2015, but most of his damage came on about 100 carries to end the season.
Johnson averaged 4.65 yards per carry and a staggering 12.69 yards per reception. Needless to say, he was a factor in both the run game and passing game.
What I found though was really interesting. Since 2000 there were 11 running backs who had over 100 rushing attempts and averaged over 4.65 while also catching at least 30 passes as rookies.
The names are really interesting because there are some really good ones: Chris Johnson, Clinton Portis, Joseph Addai and Maurice Jones-Drew (Jones-Drew was phenomenal as a rookie by the way).
There are also some one and two-year wonders: Steve Slaton, Dominic Rhodes, Selvin Young (I was pretty sure this was a fake name), Ryan Grant, Kenny Watson and some guy named Andre Ellington.
The second group has quite a few distinguishing traits: Undrafted free agents and undersized backs.
Johnson doesn't really fit into that group, so he looks like a guy who can continue to produce, the question is to what extent.
Chris Johnson is obviously someone we are all familiar with, but he and Clinton Portis were given far more carries than David Johnson was in his first year, but they also had a better yards per carry average, Johnson at 4.89 on 251 carries and Portis at a staggering 5.5 on 273 carries. Neither is the receiving threat David Johnson is though, as Johnson had less catches than both, but topped both Chris Johnson and Portis in receiving yards.
Expecting Johnson to improve his yards per carry by almost a yard is unfair, but if he can maintain what he did in his rookie season, he could become as dynamic a runner as young Portis and Chris Johnson.
The more apt comparison for David Johnson though is Joseph Addai and Maurice Jones-Drew, because of their success in the passing game as well. Addai had an extremely impactful first two seasons, rushing for over 1000 yards and catching over 40 passes. He scored 8 touchdowns in his rookie season and 15 in his second season as well as making a Pro Bowl. Things went downhill after that, but for two seasons, he was an integral part in a dominant Indianapolis offense.
Jones-Drew as a rookie was special, rushing for 941 yards and 12 touchdowns while adding 436 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. His play in Jacksonville for the next six seasons included three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro season.
There's quite a spectrum of possibilities for what to expect from David Johnson in his second season based on how he performed in his rookie season. Does he continue to get better, a la Jones-Drew? Does he peak in Year 2 like Addai? Does he become the dynamic runner like Portis and Chris Johnson? I think, maybe it's I hope, he won't be a one-year wonder like many of those that produced similar results as rookies, but what we know for sure, he's an integral part to the Cardinals finishing the season where they want to... As Super Bowl champions.