David Johnson’s Fantasy Value: The Case For Number One Overall

One-season wonder. That’s the phrase that David Johnson will fight in 2018.

Fantasy Football owners have short memories. When one player dominates a season, they usually end up as the top pick the following year. After having an historic season in 2016, Johnson was the easy choice as the top running back entering last season. His season lasted just three quarters, as Johnson suffered a fractured wrist against the Lions, effectively ending the season before it even began.

Johnson is back in Cardinals camp for the start of the 2018 season, and is once again preparing to be the main offensive weapon. But fantasy owners haven’t seen Johnson play in over a year, and his season-long absence has knocked him down a few draft spots. After Todd Gurley carried fantasy teams to a championship, and Le’Veon Bell proved to be a workhorse entering the final year of his contract, Johnson is something of a forgotten man at the top of drafts.

Let’s take a look at Johnson’s outlook for this season, and see if we can stack him up against the other top backs in the league.

Draft David Johnson First Overall

In the first game of the 2017 season, the Cardinals visited the Detroit Lions. After a four-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald to start the season, David Johnson touched the ball five straight times. On the next drive, the Cardinals went three and out on three straight Johnson touches.

I could do the entire game, but the focus of the 2017 Cardinals was clear: give the ball to David Johnson. Bruce Arians is no longer the head coach in Arizona, but he’d be wise to stick to a similar strategy. The Cardinals don’t have a roster of talented backs. They have David Johnson, and they plan to feed him as much as possible.

And the way the Cardinals are constructed, that might be their best option. The same can’t be said about other elite backs in the league, most of whom are on loaded offenses.

For the sake of this post, we’re comparing DJ to other potential choices at number one overall: Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, and Zeke Elliot. You might have other options at first pick, but you’d be wrong.

Of those top picks, only Zeke and the Cowboys will be more individual than the Cardinals this year. And although Zeke is a workhorse, the running ability of Dak Prescott limits Zeke’s ability to catch passes when the protection breaks down. Dak will run where Goff, Roethlisberger and Sam Bradford will dump off to their backs.

Anyway, back to the Cardinals. Without DJ last year, their offense was not very good. They finished the season 25th in scoring, averaging only 18.4 points per game. Three quarterbacks started games, including Blaine Gabbert. Somehow the team finished 6-2 in one-score games, a product of great coaching and a decent defense. If you told me the Cardinals finished with eight wins last year I’d call you a liar.

Losing Arians hurts, but offensive coordinator Mike McCoy knows what he’s doing. He was Denver’s OC for the Tebow and Peyton Manning eras, so he knows how to adjust an offense to cater to a team’s strengths. He’s been more of a passing-oriented coach in the past (why wouldn’t you if you have Peyton Manning), but he did have one injury-riddled season in San Diego where Danny Woodhead saw over 100 targets.

Sam Bradford is expected to start the season under center, and if he can stay healthy, he’s a good fit for the Cardinals. Bradford is as accurate as it gets in the short to intermediate passing game, ensuring more work underneath for Johnson.

Lastly, Johnson is not an injury-prone back. And unlike most athletes recovering from season-ending injuries, Johnson’s injury was to his upper body. His speed and strength, normally a question when recovering from an ACL injury, are unchanged entering his comeback season. If words can’t convince you, maybe this video of Johnson squatting 500 pounds will get the job done.

Don’t Draft David Johnson First Overall

There are a few reasons we can knock Johnson off the top spot of your draft board. The first is that despite the monster 2016 season, Johnson’s success comes with a small sample size. It’s probably the smallest sample size of any top-tier running back in history entering their third season. That’s because DJ didn’t catch on until late in his rookie season, and didn’t get the attention of the NFL until a 200-plus yard performance against the Eagles in Week 14.

Johnson did post 2,000 total yards in 2016, but didn’t post over 100 yards rushing in any game over the final six weeks of the season. Johnson left the final game with an injury, but the Cardinals did lose three of those five games. Given Johnson’s slow finish and lackluster 2017 debut, there’s a possibility that teams have figured out how to stop DJ and we just haven’t seen it yet.

Then there’s Josh Rosen. The Cardinals used the ninth overall pick in the draft to take their quarterback of the future, and he’s expected to start the season behind Bradford. But Bradford is as brittle as they come at the position, and it’s unknown how Rosen will transition to the NFL game. If he starts, the Cardinals could lean on Johnson more, but it could also cause defenses to be a little more aggressive in containing him against an inexperienced QB.

Bottom Line: Johnson is young, rested, and playing for a new contract. His team needs and expects him to produce, and he’s the premier weapon in his offense. If the Cardinals are winning, they grind the game with Johnson. If the Cardinals are losing, they can climb back by dumping it down to Johnson against soft coverage. If he stays healthy, he’s a lock for 400 touches. Guaranteed to go Top 3, and if he falls to you after the top spot you should be overjoyed.

Source: Heavy Sports