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The Auspicious Return of the Cardinals’ Dual-Threat RB/WR

NFL: New York Giants at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

At the 2015 NFL Combine, David Johnson was the star performer of the RBs---posting a 4.5 40, 25 reps at 225, an eye-popping 41.5” vertical, 127” in the broad jump and a nifty 6.82 time in the 3 cone---all of this at 6-1, 225 pounds.

As was well documented on All or Nothing, the Cardinals had their eyes set on taking Ameer Abdullah in round 2, but, after they were beat to the punch by the Lions, the Cardinals opted instead for David Johnson in round 3.

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com had Johnson rated the #8 RB in his class behind Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, T.J Yeldon, Jay Ajayi, Ameeer Abdullah and Duke Johnson. Zierlein praised Johnson for his size, versatility and jump-cut ability, but expressed concerns about his vision, playing strength, blocking and run finishing ability.

As it tuned out, David Johnson was the 7th RB taken in the 2015 draft: Gurley (10-Rams), Gordon (15-Chargers), Yeldon (36-Jags), Abdullah (54-Lions), Coleman (73-Falcons) and Duke Johnson (77-Browns).

So, why did so many teams miss out on David Johnson? Some were concerned about the level of competition he faced while at Northern Iowa. However, Johnson came through brilliantly versus the likes of Iowa St. In NIU’s stunning 28-20 upset of the Cyclones in 2013, Johnson rushed for 199 yards and 2 TDs on 23 carries, and caught 4 passes for 41 yards and 2 TDs.

Just as Iowa St. passed on David Johnson in the recruiting process, so did 31 teams in the NFL.

What NFL scouts failed to realize was the sheer strength of Johnson’s character. Johnson is about as humble and soft-spoken as a top player can possibly be. Whenever he is asked about his stellar production, he often responds by mentioning how much he still needs to learn and refine about his rushing skills, his route running and his blocking.

What scouts also underestimated is Johnson’s spectacular work ethic. Lance Zierlein mentioned “play strength” as weakness---but look what David Johnson has done to address that concern since he has joined the Cardinals. Johnson’s 10 Stations workout regimen is becoming legendary. Here’s a summary of the 10 Stations (with an assist from Matthew Jussim of Men’s Journal):

1. Box Jumps---explosive vertical jump training from a stationary start.

2. Back Squats---with as high 600 pounds.

3. Bench Press---typically at 315 pounds.

4. Sprints---on the treadmill and on the field.

5. Power Cleans---typically at 331 pounds.

6. Table Dips---upper-body work he often does at home.

7. Dumbbell Workouts---at facility and at home.

8. Sled Pulling---explosive lower body work.

9. Resistance Running---rope pulls and sails.

10. Water Training---anyone remember during DJ’s knee rehab how he finished his water training by jumping out of the water onto the side of the pool?

After a year on the IR due to the broken wrist he suffered versus the Lions in week one last year, David Johnson is champing at the bit to build on his outstanding 2016 season in which he rushed for 1,299 yards (4.2 ypc) and 16 TDs and caught 80 passes for 879 yards (11.0 ypr) and 4 TDs.

Johnson has been reiterating his goal of rushing and receiving for over 1,000 yards---the prospect of which made him the #1 Fantasy Football League prospect of 2017. When Johnson was knocked out of action in week 1 of 2017, he felt bad for not only himself and the Cardinals, but for his Fantasy fans as well.

In order to accomplish his goals this year, Johnson obviously has to stay healthy. His jump-cut slalom-like running style puts an inordinate amount of strain on his knees. His knee injury versus the Rams in 2016 was the result of a stop-cut in trying to avoid an on-rushing linebacker. Furthermore, his wrists are an extremely important part of his armor---because he tends to run high---thus, his stiff-arms are essentially his shields. Hopefully he won’t suffer any more injuries to his wrists or incur painful flare-ups in the wrist he broke last year.

There is no doubting David Johnson’s intense desire or his ability to be the most versatile and explosive running back in the NFL. After a year of not taking any hits, he is going to need to harden his body into tip-top football tone. Last year he was used sparingly in the pre-season for understandable reasons. But, he looked a little more tentative than usual in his first game versus the Lions. Part of it may have been trying to do too much all at once.

While David Johnson’s 1,000/1,000 goals are lofty, but seemingly possible if he gets on a roll as he did in 2016, it might be better for him this time around to take some of the pressure off himself. Johnson’s presence in the offense should make everyone around him better. The defenses’ focus on him should open areas of the field up for the wide receivers and other running backs.

What David Johnson can least afford to worry about is whether he is keeping his Fantasy Football League fans happy.

Despite of Johnson’s heroics in 2016, the Cardinals struggled to a 7-8-1 record and missed the playoffs. It’s rare these days for one player to carry a team. The Cardinals need a whole host of playmakers in all three phases of the game if they are going to work their way back into the playoffs. David Johnson can aid and abet that cause even when he’s not rushing or catching the ball himself.

Johnson and Johnson…hoping for “no more tears” (except tears of joy) for the Cardinals and their RB/WR superstar!