Conventional wisdom for this upcoming fantasy football season is to grab as many stud wide receivers as possible. The good news here is that the league is flush with receivers who can score 20+ points on any given Sunday. From O’Dell to the impending comeback season of Jordy Nelson (yes, that’s coming), receiver is a position with no lack of talent and can be addressed at any point of your respective drafts for the 2016 season. You know what position lacks depth? Running back. The ball is flying through the air at record setting paces, hence the receiver gold mine and running back draught. Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley are your incumbent studs for the season, but do not, I repeat, DO NOT forget about David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals. He’s worthy of being the first back off the board and here’s why:
The 6’1" running back from Northern Iowa should absolutely be spoken of in the same breath as your AP’s or TGII’s of the world. In his 2015 rookie season, Johnson was a dynamic back who put up great numbers when he actually got to touch the rock. Coach Arians didn’t want a rookie to carry the load and entrusted former 2,000 yard rusher, Chris Johnson, as the primary ball carrier. At age 30, Chris Johnson enjoyed a renaissance season in the high-powered Arizona offense being a top-3 rusher until a leg injury ended our flashback to 2013. In week’s 1-11 (prior to the CJ2K injury) Johnson managed to score at least 8.5 fantasy points five times. Johnson only rushed the ball 27 times and made 17 receptions. He did what he could with what he had. Following Week 12, Johnson enjoyed games of 12 fantasy points, 18 twice, and one 40 point explosion that I’m still celebrating.
Let’s not forget that he can do this: David Johnson Kick Return
Yeah, he can return kicks, too.
But if we look solely at Johnson’s receptions and rushes, he scored a touchdown once every 17 carries and once every 13 catches. As the new bell cow in Arizona, Johnson is poised to touch the pigskin more and do more with the opportunities. The high-powered offense in the desert will have great offensive line depth with Mike Iupati, Jared Veldheer, D.J. Humphries, A.Q. Shipley, and newly signed pro-bowl guard, Evan Mathis, to a one-year "prove it" deal. Granted, Carson Palmer won’t duplicate his 2015 season, but that was a career year. Anything close to that for Palmer will still bode well for Johnson. A revitalized role in the slot will still have Larry Fitzgerald doing Larry Fitzgerald things.
While I’m trying to answer questions about Johnson, there are also question marks surrounding Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley this season. Sure, Adrian Peterson is a freak of nature that we mortals can only marvel at, but he’s an age 31 back who has played 120 career games. No one plays forever. The age that prominent fantasy running backs stopped being 1,000 yard rushers has typically been around their late 20’s. Check out the chart below for some nostalgia and hard evidence:
Peterson has proven to be the exception to the rule having just topped 1,400 yards in his age 30 season (!), but when does this semi-truck run out of gas?
There are those that will say David Johnson isn’t sneaking up on anyone this year, but Todd Gurley isn’t sneaking up on teams either. Defenses were put on alert of his running prowess early into his career. Gurley only topped 100 yards rushing once after Week 8. There's also the fact that the Rams named Case Keenum their starter which will likely cause opposing defenses to load up 7 or 8 defenders in the box (Sorry, Case, love you on Hard Knocks, though). I hate to say it Los Angeles, but there’s nothing to suggest that the Rams won’t turn in another 7-9 or 8-8 season with their one dimensional offense.
So while you can likely draft a Pro-Bowl receiver like Allen Robinson or Amari Cooper in a later round, you won’t find a David Johnson type of talent at running back this season in a late round. Grab him early, sit back, and enjoy the David Johnson show. The NFC West may have some tough defenses, but Johnson’s versatility allows for some big plays.
And at least they get to play the Niners twice.