There are expectations that have never been seen before in the state of Arizona when it comes to the professional football team. The Cardinals are a prohibitive Super Bowl favorite, sit atop numerous pre-season power rankings and have the NFL world buzzing about what they could be.
Yet, maybe no player is generating as much singular expectations from outside media as well as the Arizona Cardinals as David Johnson.
Johnson was listed as Football Outsiders top player to break out in 2016 in the NFL. It is quite the honor as Football Outsiders have done a nice job of identifying under the radar players who are the next superstars in the NFL.
There are some rules to it, a player must have played under 500 snaps, they must be draft in the third round or later (or an undrafted free agent).
What did FO say about Johnson?
You may remember Mr. Johnson as a major swing factor for your fantasy football league last winter. His advanced statistics certainly backed up the touchdowns: Johnson finished fourth in rushing DVOA and eighth in DYAR in his rookie season. And while he's not a dumbfoundingly obvious talent like Todd Gurley, that's the reason the Cardinals were able to get Johnson in the third round. At 6-foot-1, 224 pounds, Johnson is built to be a workhorse back. He also made outstanding plays as a receiver, finishing sixth in receiving DYAR among running backs and averaging 4.0 more yards after the catch than expected given where he caught those passes. The usual caveats about running backs apply -- high attrition, increased role-splitting -- but Johnson sure looks like a franchise running back as we enter 2016.
The jump to superstar and franchise running back is a lot to expect, especially for a third round pick from a small school. Yet, if any player is going to make that jump, it will be Johnson, who has the mentality and poise of an aged veteran.
Johnson was not the only Arizona Cardinals player to make the list, as wide receiver J.J. Nelson came in at number 24 on the list, here is what FO said.
Last year, Nelson was a situational speedster, the guy that rocketed through the middle of the defense to catch Carson Palmer bombs. This is the sort of skill set that, in a good offense, leads to 23.7 yards per reception. Nelson's future in the league is harder to forecast. He's tiny enough (listed 5-foot-10, 160 pounds) that it's hard to buy him as an outside receiver. He came out of UAB with almost zero ability to make tacklers miss. Head coach Bruce Arians is big on the receiver's future, calling him "unique" at tracking the ball over his shoulder. It's possible that Arians sees similarities to a player the Colts drafted while he was in Indy: T.Y. Hilton. For the near future, Nelson is behind three great receivers on the depth chart. To become more, he'll need to show more ability to deal with the physical grind of the league. He'll also need to get better after the catch -- he gained more than three yards after the catch on just two of his receptions.
A surprise name showed up in the honorable mentions section as Football Outsiders listed Shaq Riddick as a potential star in the making. While that seems like a bit of a reach based on the lack of playing time for Shaq, it is good to see that he is highly thought of.