Here at the redraft side of DFF, we’ve been running mock drafts for a few months now with some of our writers. The roster breakdown is pretty standard these days (1 QB, 2 RB’s, 2 WR’s, Flex (RB/WR/ TE) and we use PPR scoring. We’ve completed four mocks so far. Todd Gurley has been Top 2 in each draft. Le’Veon Bell has gone 2, 2, 1, 3. Ezekiel Elliott has gone 3, 3, 5, 1. David Johnson hadn’t been taken higher than RB3 until this time around when I selected him at 1.01.
My rationale is very simple…David Johnson is incredible at football. Like, really good. My friend Nathan Coleman wrote the case against him here. We’ve argued about this through Twitter whether it be through DM or publicly. It’s a well-written article that hits on some of the concerns that I have about DJ, so take a minute or two and read through it now.
Great…you’re back? Here’s a quick rundown of where this article is headed and why I think David Johnson is the 1.01:
- Examining David Johnson’s 2016
- How Does DJs 2016 Compare to the Prototypical RB1?
- A Look Forward to DJs 2017
Examining David Johnson’s 2016
David Johnson’s 2016 was nothing short of incredible. The table below pretty much speaks for itself, but his season was remarkable in almost every way you can slice it. He scored the 8th most points for a running back in PPR since 2000 and did it largely thanks to his receiving production. DJ saw 120 targets and had one of the highest receiving totals for a running back in league history.
Week in and week out, a lot of the talk surrounding running back production centers around game-script. The assumption here is that a team that plays from behind won’t necessarily use their running back as much while they try to play catch-up. In the 2016 season, the Cardinals weren’t exactly juggernauts of the NFL. They went 7-8-1, albeit against the 7th hardest schedule (based on opponents’ prior year record) in the league. They managed to sustain one of the best single-season running back performances we’ve ever seen despite the team only winning seven games on the year.
So, David Johnson overcame a mediocre team performance. Another hurdle was the fact that they also had the 21st ranked offensive line according to Football Outsiders (Courtesy of FFStatistics). Those two factors are sometimes considered when figuring out whether or not to draft a given RB. If you allowed the strength of their opponents or the weakness of their offensive line, you might have missed out on the 8th best PPR performance that we’ve seen since 2000.
For running backs that finished the year in the Top 24, offensive line play explains 3% of PPR Points for Running Backs while total touches explain 31.7% of scoring, historically. In that same group, the strength of schedule entering the season has an r-squared of .001 with PPR Points. If you want to treat these things as a tie-breaker, maybe I could see it, but I’m largely ignoring it depending on a backs’ potential touches.
|Category||David Johnson’s 2016||# of RBs Who’ve Matched This Total Since 2000*||# of WRs Who’ve Matched This Total Since 2000**|
*Per RotoViz Screener, Running Backs Since 2000
(Sample Size = 2,943 Running Back Seasons)
**Per RotoViz Screener, Wide Receivers Since 2000
(Sample Size = 3,408 Wide Receiver Seasons)
How Does DJs 2016 Compare to the Prototypical RB1?
Smarter folks than me have dove into the reasons for how running backs have evolved in today’s NFL. In the past five years, RB1s have averaged 351 touches and 371 PPR Points (1.05 PPR Points/Touch). From a rushing workload perspective, 2016 David Johnson was a used a bit more than some of the more recent RB1s but his receiving work was right in line with what we’ve come to expect as far as reception totals. The things that encourage me the most is that his touchdown totals that year weren’t through the roof and unsustainable. I’m not in the business of predicting touchdowns because they aren’t particularly sticky year over year, but I’ll bet he sees a high number of touches he’ll receive if healthy all year.
|Category||Season Long RB1 Average
|Season Long RB1 Average
|David Johnson (2016)|
|Total PPR Points||389.6||371||411|
A Look Forward to DJ’s 2017
Some of the arguments leveled against DJ have already been talked about here (strength of schedule, team talent, offensive line play) so I won’t belabor the point. Yes, he was injured last year but that seemed more flukey to me than a consistent soft tissue injury showing up or a devastating ligament injury that will negatively impact his athleticism.
At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t say regression was impossible. It isn’t unreasonable to say that DJ won’t break 400 PPR Points this season. But that doesn’t mean he won’t finish as the RB1. There have only been 8 times where a running back scored 400+ PPR Points.
Even if we see TD regression or see a drop in targets from his 2016 campaign he can still keep pace with the best backs in the league. His new offensive coordinator is Mike McCoy. No lead back who played at least 12 games under McCoy has seen fewer than 15 opportunities (carries plus targets) per game. DJ’s usage in the passing game bumps up his potential PPR Points/Touch and we could be in for another monster year from him. The best part is that you’re getting who should be the 1.01 at 1.04 or 1.05 in most drafts.