In the 2016 season, David Johnson reached the pinnacle of fantasy heights topping 2,000 all-purpose yards along with 20 touchdowns. Hoping for a repeat, fantasy enthusiast around the globe salivated at the opportunity to choose the “Humble Rumble” at the top of their leagues draft. Of course, we all know how the story ends. To the dismay of football fans across the country, DJ missed the entire season with a wrist injury.
Fast forward to today, the Cardinal faithful and fantasy fanatics alike are wondering if Johnson’s true encore season will replicate his 2016 breakout. There can be no disputing Johnson is a dynamic back both as a runner and receiver, but his production is unfortunately tied to a Cardinals team that might as well be pushing a boulder up a mountain during the 2018 NFL season.
My reason for apprehension regarding drafting David Johnson is due to the composition and schedule of the current Cardinals team as well as the rarity albeit spectacular 2016 season of DJ. In surveying several reputable sites, the current average draft position of Johnson ranges from the overall RB3-RB5 on average. It’s certainly not egregious to think that DJ can catch lightning in a bottle and finish as the overall RB1 but on average I tend to think that he will finish right outside the first tier of the draft(RB5-6).
A Look Back At 2016
If you happened to be living under a rock during 2016, here is DJ’s season total. Every stat is more eye-popping than the next. The main takeaway is that David Johnson is a fantasy swiss army knife bridging the gap between RB1 and a WR2.
What makes Johnson’s 2016 all that more unique is the fact that he compiled monster stats surrounded by a mediocre team. Team context is vital when gauging a player’s fantasy outlook for multiple reasons such as positive game script, extra scoring opportunities and an increased amount of sustained drives. Below is a chart that illustrates a loose correlation between winning and scoring fantasy points over the course of the last five years.
What this chart illustrates first and foremost is that DJ’s 2016 season is remarkable and possibly a bit of an outlier. Ultimately running backs on good teams tend to score more points consistently. Uber talented players such as David Johnson can often be the exception as negative game scripts during garbage time can still lead to production. Below I’ll explain why ultimately Johnson will more than likely not repeat his 2016 totals.
A Triple Threat
Coaching changes, roster reconstruction, and a difficult schedule will all threaten to cut into the production of the former Northern Iowa Panther in 2018. The loss of Bruce Arians cannot be understated in terms of his willingness to scheme Johnson into quality touches in space. Heading into the 2017 season, it was Arians who stressed the willingness to allow DJ to top 1,000 yards receiving. With a new rookie head coach in Steve Wilks, the offensive responsibility will mostly fall on veteran play-caller Mike McCoy.
McCoy has had several top 10 finishes as a play caller, granted those teams featured two future Hall of Famers in Phillip Rivers and Peyton Manning. McCoy has often been a proponent for a backfield committee, and he may not be as innovative when it comes to crafting a large volume of plays designed to get DJ the ball on plays that favor his skill set. In 2017 McCoy took over as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos and failed to stay employed through Thanksgiving. Similarly, this year McCoy will take over an offense void of talent outside David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Speaking of talent, below is the projected starting offensive line that DJ will be forced to run behind. The chart includes the recent, lengthy injury history of the projected starters as well as their Pro-Football Focus grade and games started. This depth chart is certainly subject to change baring the results of the draft and late free agency.
The graphic above speaks volumes about not only the group’s inability to stay on the field but also their ineffectiveness. To think that this unit will stay healthy long enough to establish some comradery is laughable when considering the storied injury history that has plagued the Cards line. What isn’t shown above is Sam Bradford, who could be a spokesperson for the NFL IR.
Jeff Ratcliffe of the PFF Fantasy Podcast created the chart below, which is a compilation of a position by position strength of schedule breakdown. The rankings are based off the 2018 schedule coupled with the roster composition of each team. Arizona has the worse position by position breakdown of any team by far. Again charts like this are more of a guide and teams rosters are fluid, potentially changing in an instant based on multiple variables such as injuries. Ultimately the draft will also potentially improve(slightly) each team so let’s hope the Cards stock up on O-line, skill positions, and QBs.
The right chart above is a breakdown 2018 NFL strength of schedule from Sharp Football Analysis. If you are unfamiliar with this site or how SoS should be measured then be sure to check out this link for an explanation from Warren Sharp. Essentially, the rankings are based on current roster composition, the schedule itself, and current Vegas odds. Again, a common theme here is that Arizona is near the bottom of the pack.
At the end of the day, the charts and metrics above are more guides to show that Arizona has an uphill battle to finish with a winning record. For running backs, winning games leads to positive game scripts which correlate to added production consistently. David Johnson is one of, if not the most talented back in the league and his talent will allow him to mask some of the Cardinals shortfalls, to a degree. Ultimately fantasy owners should not expect the same 2016 production from Johnson as he is due for some slight regression. As mentioned before Johnson is more than capable of finishing as the RB1. But his other outcomes can vary significantly based off of team composition.