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10 December 2015: Arizona Cardinals Running Back David Johnson (31) [20529] in action during a Thursday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson’s season could hinge on opening performance

Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
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It’s rare that a second-year player has as lofty expectations as David Johnson does with the Arizona Cardinals. Just last year, he was a third-round pick looking to make an impact on a limited basis. Now he’s considered a potential MVP candidate.

Not even Todd Gurley, the 10th-overall pick, is getting that type of hype. Though, if he were on the Cardinals, he likely would be getting showered even more. But let alone, seeing Johnson get all this praise after just one season as the de facto starter should cause some healthy skepticism.

Playing against the New England Patriots on Sunday should be a good preview of what’s to come: An All-Pro season or a bust?

While the Pats are not the living embodiment of defense, they were a stout run defense last season. The Patriots ranked inside the top ten in both rushing yards (ninth) and touchdowns (sixth) allowed. The loss of Chandler Jones — coincidentally now a Cardinal — may change that equation a bit, but Chris Long was brought in to limit the regression at that position.

Last season, the Patriots opened the season with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowing 127 yards to DeAngelo Williams. He went on to rush for over 900 yards and 11 touchdowns in just 10 games started. If Johnson can run within that range Williams set to open last season, he should be set for a good year again.

But Johnson’s game goes far beyond just running between the tackles. Recruited as a receiver out of high school, Johnson has shown chops as a receiving threat too. Before he took on the starting halfback role, he was consistently putting up big receiving numbers and finished with 1,038 yards from scrimmage because of that versatility.

The Patriots were very efficient stopping running backs from doing their job last season. Players like LeSean McCoy couldn’t salvage more than 30 yards receiving. Even the Philadelphia Eagles’ stable of receiving backs didn’t fare well against the Pats, as Darren Sproles topped out at 34 yards.

This would just be one game, and every great running back is allowed to have a few missteps. After all, Johnson wasn’t flawless last season, he tripped up in the final two weeks of the season. But showing that he’s not just a one-hit wonder to open the season should prove any doubters wrong. Conversely, hit a few flat notes, and people may start jumping off the hype train.

To see Johnson fall flat this season would be disappointing, but it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. Just look at the Cardinals’ past with young, promising running backs. Andre Ellington being the most recent example in Bruce Arians’ offense. Before him was Beanie Wells during the Ken Whisenhunt days. Both had declines induced by injury, but regardless, declines in production fell when anticipation was too high.

If Johnson were stock, people that bought him low last season would be geniuses. Those same people would be advised to sell him high this year. Sunday will be a good indicator if basic economics can be applied to Johnson and the Cardinals.

David Johnson’s season could hinge on opening performance



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