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Cardinals’ Leadership at RB

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In 5th year RB David Johnson, the Arizona Cardinals believe they have one of the premier dual threat playmakers in the NFL.

Last year, coming off a season lost in Week 1 to a broken wrist, Johnson and his agent, Jonathan Perzley, played the Cardinals like a $30M Stradivarius.

In a gesture that seemed out of character, Johnson elected to skip the team’s mandatory mini-camp under first year head coach, Steve Wilks.

Johnson was heading into the final year of his rookie deal, thus, after missing 15 games in 2017, the Cardinals could have used this final year to assess Johnson’s long-term value—-and—-if need be—-the Cardinals could've maintained control of Johnson’s rights by employing the franchise tag on him in 2019.

Add to this, the ever growing trend in the NFL of teams not wanting to invest mega millions of dollars in RBs because of how quickly NFL RBs can decline or be lost to injury.

However, like the Cardinals did for S Tyrann Mathieu prior to his 4th season, the Cardinals elected to give David Johnson over $30M in guaranteed money on a 3 year $39M extension that with games played and production incentives could reach $45M.

What the Cardinals got in return from Johnson in 2018 was short of expectations. Despite playing in the most vanilla offense in the league, Johnson put up 940 yards rushing (3.6 ave.) and 446 yards receiving (8.9 ave.) and a total of 10 TDs.

But—-gone was the classic giddyup, downhill slalom style of Johnson’s game. One could probably best describe Johnson’s new plodding, feel around for a hole style as pedestrian.

In terms of body language and on the field interactions with his teammates, Johnson is not particularly animated. He plays in his own little bubble. Between snaps he tends to watch replays on the Jumbotron while walking slowly back to the huddle.

if there was one play that epitomized the Cardinals’ 2018 offense, it was the 4th and 1 the Cardinals went for in a close game at home versus the Bears—-yet inexplicably—-Johnson was taken off the field to be reprimanded for missing a blitz pickup on the previously play.

Johnson’s replacement, rookie RB Chase Edmonds, was tackled for a 2 yard loss and the Bears went on to win the game, 16-14.

Ok—so that was then—-and this is now.

What David Johnson can rejoice in is that Cardinals have ushered in a creative offensive minded head coach in Kliff Kingsbury and his highly regarded spread offense which ultimately aims to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers in space.

If there is an offense that caters to David Johnson’s strengths—-the K-Raid is the one.

Johnson has gained 2,783 yards rushing with 31 TDs and 1,849 yards receiving with 11 TDs thus far in his 4 year NFL career.

At Northern Iowa, Johnson split time between RB and WR and amassed 4,682 yards rushing with 49 TDs plus 1,734 yards receiving with 14 TDs.

The big question for Johnson this year is how quickly he can master his assignments within the offense.

As Larry Fitzgerald has pointed out, the terminology of the offense is relatively easy to understand—-but it’s the quick processing of the plays in adapting to the up-tempo pace that for the players presents the greatest challenge.

Kliff Kingsbury believes in repping plays over and over and over in practice so that the players can play fast and without having to think too much.

In the past, Johnson has shown a propensity for making mental errors, as he did in the Bears game when he missed his assignment the 3rd down blitzer.

If Johnson is going to emerge as a leader and star in the K-Raid offense, he is going to have to play fast and error-free.

Johnson won’t have time this year to watch the Jumbotron between plays—-he and his teammates have to push the tempo.

Furthermore, it would be helpful for Johnson in his quest to become a leader to temper his 1,000 yard rushing, 1,000 yard receiving and Fantasy Football projections.

The fact of the matter is, the more the football is spread around to different playmakers in the K-Raid, the more successful it is apt to be.

At Oklahoma last year, Kyler Murray threw to 3 WRs for more that 1,000 yards and double digit TDs, while rushing himself for over 1,000 and double digit TDs. That is extraordinarily balanced production.

Kurt Warner in his heydays with the Cardinals preached and demanded the spreading of the ball around. In 2008, Warner made 1,000 yard plus receivers out of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston while getting another 1,000 receiving yards combined from Jerheme Urban, Tim Hightower and J.J. Arrington.

Carson Palmer in his best season with the Cardinals in 2015 generated receiving yards of 1,215 from Larry Fitzgerald, 1,003 from John Brown, 849 from Michael Floyd and 457 from David Johnson.

David Johnson was amazing in 2016 rushing for 1,294 yards while adding 879 yards receiving and 20 TDs combined—-but aside from Larry Fitzgerald that year, the Cardinals didn’t have big years from other playmakers, which contributed to the disappointing 7-8-1 record.

Therefore, by virtue of his own experience, David Johnson should concentrate this season on the one stat that matters most—-doing his job to help the team win.

By all indications, Kliff Kingsbury has been very pleased thus far with 2nd year RB Chase Edmonds. Edmonds is fastidious when it comes to learning his assignments and trying to master the nuances of rushing, receiving and pass protecting. Hopefully, Edmonds plays a little faster and shows a little more wiggle than he did last year.

T.J. Logan, because of his speed, attack the hole style and prolific receiving ability could be a surprise playmaker in the K-Raid.

D.J. Foster is an all-purpose RB, who has seen first hand from his days with the Patriots how diverse offenses can click when every playmaker has a key role, now finds himself in a position to make his leadership count.