Arizona's David Johnson is a Wide Receiver in Running Back's Clothing

David Johnson torched Washington on Sunday the same way he's being doing it all year: on the ground and through the air.

by Rivers McCown
Dec 7 2016, 3:05pm

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a tough year for the Cardinals, but hidden under the poor record has been a breakout season from running back David Johnson.

Johnson, who rated as my No. 1 prospect on Football Outsiders' preseason list, has been a consistent fantasy football dynamo. In fact, he's become so consistent that it's almost boring. I've spent a lot of the season recapping the biggest booms, and ignoring Johnson because he does it so often that it's barely news.

Here's the thing about Johnson: a lot of running backs are performing as well statistically. Johnson is 11th in Football Outsiders' DVOA, and his 50 percent success rate on runs is ninth. Where he stands out is as a receiver, which is exactly the area where the Cardinals have needed him most this year since the offensive line and wide receivers have combined to sabotage their deep passing game.

I think we need a table here. David Johnson isn't just No. 1 in receiving DYAR, he's there by a wide margin.

Johnson's season is like if you fused Doug Baldwin's season with LeGarrette Blount's. There's only one back in recent history that operated quite like this: Marshall Faulk.

Or, to put it in visuals, Johnson combines this:


With this:


Look at where he comes from on that route—on a tightly-contested ball by the linebacker—and Johnson displays perfect form on the catch, then hits the open field and gains more yardage. When we talk about running backs who can catch balls and be part of a game plan, we're thinking about screens or making something out of nothing on a dumpoff. Johnson is literally a wide receiver playing running back.

I mean, even though he didn't catch this ball, he basically ran a T.Y. Hilton route. He's got a little stop-and-go, the ball goes to his shoulder, and it's just slightly overthrown. This is a running back.


Washington drafted a linebacker, Su'a Cravens (36), in the second round to be an ace in the hole against good short-term receiving threats. Now watch as David Johnson freezes him, then runs a route that makes him look foolish.


Finally, since everyone likes touchdowns, Johnson looks really good on the regular ol' running back routes, too:


There are a lot of running backs that can catch passes. There are not many wide receivers that can run the ball.