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Predicting Arizona Cardinals running back usage after David Johnson injury

How will the Arizona Cardinals use their running backs now?

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame Game-Arizona Cardinals vs Dallas Cowboys Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Cardinals have not had a situation like this at running back since... Well 2014.

In fact, in each of Bruce Arians first two seasons, the usage of the running back was meager at best, and the output was reliant on big plays, not high volumes.

2013 will give us a good idea of what we can expect from the Cardinals for the rest of 2017. the Cardinals finished 20th in rushing attempts, 23 in yards and 27th in yards per carry. Meaning, Rashard “3.2” Mendenhall didn’t strike fear in his opponents.

However, Andre Ellington did a nice job in his limited touches, thus the #FreeEllington movement, averaging 5.5 yards per carry on only 118 carries for 652 yards and catching 39 passes for an additional 371 yards.

The problem became the usage of the running backs was not steady until the back half of the season, when Arizona went on their run.

In his final eight games of the season, Ellington carried the ball 90 times in those eight games. Still, that is only 11 carries a game (Note: Ellington missed the Philadelphia game that year).

On the flipside, Rashard in the games where Ellington was getting carries, average close to 16 carries a game.

It seems like Kerwynn Williams is going to get the first crack to carry the load, as much as he can. Which could look similar to Mendenhall’s back half of the 2013 season: 14-17 carries a game.

The question is, can Williams sustain that type of punishment? Williams has carried the ball 15 or more times in a game three times in his career.

All of those games were in 2014 and Williams averaged: 5.2 yards per carry, 5 yards per carry and 3.9 yards per carry in those games.

Ellington figures to get most of the receiving targets, Williams has 11 career targets, six career catches and 35 receiving yards in his career.

In Ellington’s high volume 2013 and 2014 he averaged four targets and 5.5 targets a game respectively.

Johnson averaged 7.5 targets per game in 2016, meaning two targets a game more than Ellington at his best.

Ellington figures to get 8-10 carries with another 4-6 targets a game.

Then there is Chris Johnson. Johnson was brought back, in my view, to give the Cardinals a veteran presence in case things don’t work with Williams being the feature back, as much as they will feature a running back.

Elijhaa Penny may be their new short yardage back, ala Stepfan Taylor, who had 36 carries in 2013 in all 16 games.

Newly signed D.J. Foster is the return man it sounds like, but if anything happens to Ellington, he could inherit that role.

That is my best guess of what the Arizona Cardinals running back distribution looks like moving forward.

Get well soon, David Johnson.