Cardinals believe David Johnson has tools to be ‘one of the best’
GLENDALE, Ariz. — David Johnson is a dream for those who play fantasy football — a big, fast, agile running back and an outstanding receiver who scores a lot of touchdowns.
They expect big things from the 24-year-old second-year pro. So do the Arizona Cardinals. And those expectations are enormous.
"David has all the tools," Cardinals running backs coach Stump Mitchell said, "to be — given longevity — one of the best backs ever to play that game."
No pressure there, right?
Yet Johnson embraces that kind of praise.
"Hearing some of the greats I watched growing up — you know, Marshall Faulk — being compared to some of those guys is amazing," Johnson said. "But on the other hand it makes me want to live up to those expectations. So I’m trying to do as much as I can off the field, on the field, in the weight room, nutrition, training room."
Six running backs were drafted in 2015 before the Cardinals selected Johnson out of Northern Iowa in the third round, the 86th player chosen overall. And as anyone who has watched the "All or Nothing" video series chronicling last season knows, Johnson was not Arizona’s first choice as a running back. A scene shows the Cardinals about to select Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah in the second round when Detroit snatched him away one pick ahead of them.
That led to the selection of Johnson.
"You know, God has a way of stepping in," Mitchell said, smiling.
The first time the 6-foot-1, 224-pound running back touched the ball in an NFL game, in the opener against New Orleans, Johnson took a short pass and ran away from everyone on a 55-yard touchdown play.
The next week against Detroit, he returned the opening kickoff 108 yards — a franchise record — for a score. Two touches, two touchdowns.
And when Chris Johnson went down with a knee injury, David Johnson was no longer being eased into the game.
"The role just kept increasing and opportunities just kept coming his way," coach Bruce Arians said. "When you make the best of the opportunities, Wally Pipp you know, you forget about the other guy."
Johnson wound up leading the team with 13 touchdowns, most by any rookie in the league (eight rushing, four receiving and one by kickoff return).
He totaled 1,636 all-purpose yards and became only the fourth player in NFL history to reach 500 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving, 500 yards in kickoff returns and score at least 13 touchdowns.
"I always had confidence in myself," Johnson said. "I just wanted my shot. I just wanted my chance to prove that I was capable of being able to play in this league. Of course, I got down on myself a little bit when I wasn’t getting any recognition out of college from some of the scouts and some of the coaches, but I always thought I had the ability to perform with these guys."
Chris Johnson is back, helping David. There is no resentment. In Arians’ offense, both Johnsons know, there are plenty of opportunities.
And David is turning heads in camp.
"There’s two runs that he pulled away from everybody," quarterback Carson Palmer said, "and I mean everybody on the field — and there were starters on the field."
The soft-spoken Johnson calls himself "a strider." People don’t realize how fast he is, he said, "until they see a defender trying to catch me."
And it’s a long run from where he began.
Johnson is a triplet who grew up in Clinton, Iowa, the fifth of six children to a single mother struggling to make ends meet. He has said his mother was jailed for a time on alcohol-related offenses before she found recovery and developed a strong Christian faith.
He often looks back at how far he has come.
"I reflect on all the sacrifices," Johnson said, "everything that I `ve been through growing up, not getting too much recognition coming out of college and all the hardships I had growing up. Every day I think back and thank God for giving me the blessing of doing it."
This offseason, he got married. The couple is expecting a child.
"I couldn’t ask for a better life right now," he said.