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David Johnson: The rise from third round unknown to best running back in the NFL

The Arizona Cardinals were fortunate to end up with David Johnson in the third round.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-OTA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Pre-draft Buzz:

When David Johnson was coming into the league, uncertainty was a given, as many thought of him as a third down back in the NFL. It wasn’t that he came into the NFL as a bonafide star, but rather a ‘developmental’ future featured back. That becomes difficult for a running back to break the mold when you have critics everywhere you look.

Want proof of the doubters? What about the six other running backs taken before David Johnson? That means that NFL clubs thought there really was six, that’s right, SIX running backs that were more talented than the Humble Rumble. Those six in order: Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, T.J. Yeldon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman, and Duke Johnson. Seriously, everyone was supposedly more talented than Johnson, right?

On the Emmy Nominated Show All-or-Nothing, it’s discovered that Arizona was dangerously close to selecting Ameer Abdullah in the second round (thank goodness). Luckily, the Lions traded up to select the targeted Abdullah, instead the Cardinals grabbed another potential pro-bowler in Markus Golden. Which brings a point for Golden and Johnson; being patient is a good thing.


In year one, the odds seemed like he would be a situational running back that specialized for third down/short yardage back because of his body type. That was because of the offseason addition of Chris Johnson and the incumbent yet always injured starter Andre Ellington. Of course, Chris Johnson made a year of it, passing over 800+ yards before landing on IR.

Then entered the rookie phenom David Johnson, someone who made NFL history in week 2 by being the first rookie to rush, catch, and to have a kick return for a touchdown in his first two games. By the time, he took over for Chris Johnson, the Cardinals were locked into a high playoff seed. In the playoffs, the Cardinals scraped by against the Green Bay Packers before losing, again in Carolina. The only bright spot in Carolina was David Johnson, as he had over 95 yards on one of the top defenses in the NFL.

The 2015 season ended on a sour note, as the Cardinals finished the game 49-15, a humiliating defeat that many Cardinals and their fans will hold dearly in their hearts. But through the ashes, a new leader in the clubhouse emerged, as David Johnson made it clear he would be the starter for 2016. And if anyone knows players, it’s longtime offensive coordinator/assistant Tom Moore, who said that David Johnson reminded him of Franco Harris. Very lofty comparison.


Chris Johnson returned to the Cardinals last season, but this time, it was as the backup to David Johnson, which many fans thought must have been a little delusional because of the claim-to-fame of being CJ2K. We were all assuming (don’t lie, you know you were too) that the Cardinals would jump back onto the pass-happy Cardiac Cards, with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson being major players in the passing game. That didn’t happen.

I for one, got a lot of crap for drafting David Johnson in the first round of my fantasy league because he was unproven, but I now scoff because of the success he displayed last year. Someone who was awfully close to the historical 1000 yard rushing, 1000 yard receiving mark. He got close, but no cigar. 1239 yards. 4.2 average, 16 touchdowns, 80 receptions, 879 yards, and 4 receiving touchdowns. That’s Marshall Faulk-type of numbers.

We weren’t at all amazed anymore, and David Johnson became a legitimate MVP candidate, but what was surprising was that he was to only receive one (1!) vote at the end of it all. We understand that most of the time it’s the quarterback position that is overemphasized and because of this, there is a lack of attention to other positions. That’s okay, but mark my words, that was a terrible mistake, because the Humble Rumble doesn’t forget. Not his third round projection, nor his singular MVP vote.

Look Towards the Future (2017):

Now, the Humble Rumble has a few things he must correct to finally be the top dog in the NFL, and it all starts with fundamentals. Cutting down on his turnovers, as Johnson did have 5 fumbles (3 lost), and he needs to become a more consistent pass-blocker for Carson Palmer. Remember, that was only his second season, so we could expect a sizeable leap from year 2 to year 3. With coach Arians always pushing him to be greater, the sky’s the limit, right?

His usage couldn’t (or maybe it could) go much higher, so he needs to find a way to beat a usually stout 8 man box that is sure to be there this season. No more depending on the passing game, it’s time to depend heavily on the run. It would be easy to assume that Johnson would be able to get to the fabled 1000/1000 club, but we should set realistic goals since this year, teams will know how dominate he can be.

I still think this will be a very good year for him, as my clubhouse favorite for backup duties; Elijhaa Penny, should be there to spell Johnson once the season starts. Questions will persist for Johnson: Can Johnson beat 8 man fronts? Can Johnson recover from a weirdly non-serious injury on time to be the running back he was before? Does Johnson have enough gas to power the Cardinals to the playoffs?

Here’s my estimated stat line: 1457 yards,16 touchdowns, 3.7 yards per carry, 66 receptions, 785 yards receiving, and 7 receiving touchdowns.

This could be the year that David Johnson altogether puts the Cardinals on his back. Remember this: Without David Johnson, the Arizona Cardinals may have only won 3-5 games in 2016, so we might need to depend heavily again on him. I am confident in his ability to stay healthy and lead the way.

Go Cards!