NFL16: In a Sorry Season, David Johnson is an Arizona Bright-Spot

1 Dec

Stiff-Arm

It was the time-tested stiff-arm tactic that first caught my eye when happening upon Arizona Cardinals then rookie running-back David Johnson (UNI) two summers ago in a pre-season exhibit game against the San Diego Bolts.

In carrying the pigskin prize, the Clinton, Iowa native had habit of putting his free-arm out like the Heisman guy, an effective tactic at keeping his AFC opponents at bay long enough to tack on a few more yards, no doubt to the delight of Cardinals staff.

az-cards-wc-m-epsilon-9-2-12-logo-10k-2005It’s true that pre-season play by tradition and common sense does not often go full-tilt and must be viewed in a different light than the regular season play. The reasons are well known: Rusty from the layoff, trying to avoid injury (to yourself / opponents) and a team chemistry that is still in flux due to new teammates by-way of the draft, trade or free-agency.

But if I recall right, this Cards – Bolts exhibition was one of the later games when the synergy is beginning to set in, defensive hits get more pointed and borderline players are fighting for their lives to make the final roster. And in this heightened state of competition, David looked to be a gem.

The Whole Package

From the get-go, you could, if possessing of even a rudimentary level of football know-how, see that this 3rd round 2015 draftee (#86) out of Northern Iowa had all the tools to survive head coach Bruce Arians’ roster-cut and then thrive at the pro level once given a starter’s spot.

It’s kinda’ basic but Johnson clearly knew his playbook. And how many rookies and then vets too have suffered a roster cut simply failing to know that much?

arians-8-5-16-wc-g-skidmore-2-2m-az*David let the O-line do its thing, found holes the playbook predicted and when they weren’t there, could cut on a dime and carve out his own. Then, when quarterback Carson Palmer put the ball in flight, it found sanctuary in a pair of hands that were made to catch.

That pre-season audition, impressive to this viewer and his coaches no doubt, seems to have started David Johnson on a professional pathway to a cherished place.

Born to NFL?

Making the Cardinals cut and sharing duties with former 2000-yard running man in Chris Johnson, David would go on to rush for near 600 yards, eight (8) touchdowns, haul in 36 catches for 457 yards and convert four (4) of those for pay-dirt. Pretty spiffy statistics for a greenhorn.

This 2016 season has David appearing as one of the few bright spots in a sorry Cardinals campaign (4-6-1), one where the team is beginning to show the blight of the dreaded “selfish” disease, as recently pointed out by Mr. Arians. But it’s seen the sophomore’s upward trajectory put David in class with the National game’s top rushers and most reliable go-to receivers.

az-cards-plane-e-maloney-4-6-08-425k*In handling triple-duty in the lion’s share of AZ’s rushing game, a healthy portion of the reception load and turning much of it into touchdowns (13), Johnson’s fashioning himself into a top NFL multi-purpose running back, nearing that stupendous class of 1970s greats like the Minnesota Vikings’ Chuck Foreman and St. Louis Cardinals’ Terry Metcalf, both offensive stalwarts who could do…it…all!

Entering W13 action, here are David’s NFL ranks in key personal stats:

#3 in rushing yards with 921;
Tied at #27 in receptions at 55 (#2 RB);
#40 in reception-yards with 613 (#1 RB);
#1 in touchdowns with 13 pay-dirts, and
#1 in yards-from-scrimmage (run / catch) with 1534.

Every year as the NFL season winds down there are a handful of viable MVP candidates to mull over. This 2016 campaign is no different (Brady, Prescott, Elliott, Carr, Wagner, etc.). But if David Johnson is not in one’s discussion on who should take home the coveted Associated Press award, it might be best that person forget about talking football and stick with The Walking Dead.

*Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credits: Arizona-Cardinals word mark, wc.cca, M.Epsilon, 9.2.12, 2005; UniversityPhoenix-Stdm, wc, K.Lund, 4.10.9; B.Arians, wc, 8.5.16, G.Skidmore, Glendale-AZ; AZ-Cards-plane, wc, 4.6.8, E.Maloney; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 12.1.16 @ 3:11pm EST; Copyright © 2016

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