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Andrew Swanson | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Overcome Your David Johnson Phobia

The similarities between David Johnson in 2018 and Todd Gurley in 2016 are striking.

The St. Louis Rams used the 10th pick of the 2015 NFL Draft on Georgia Running Back Todd Gurley. The team hoped Gurley would become the face of the franchise for their impending move to Los Angeles, a player they would eventually pair with 2017 first overall pick Jared Goff to lead the offense.

Gurley proved to be worth every bit of his early draft capital, rushing for 1106 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games as a rookie in route to offensive rookie of the year honors.

The fantasy community quickly anointed Gurley among the elite running backs in the league and owners drafted him with confidence in the first round of 2016 fantasy drafts. But a sophomore slump soured Gurley owners, as injuries to the offensive line and a pathetic offensive scheme used by the Jeff Fisher-led coaching staff all but killed Gurley’s value.

As is often the case, the fantasy community once again overreacted, moving Gurley outside the top-12 consensus rankings for 2017. Despite a new coaching staff, upgraded weapons, and an improved offensive line, Gurley fell outside the first round in most drafts as owners stayed clear of the 2016 bust.

The lucky owners who landed Gurley in the second round had the top fantasy player and 19 total touchdowns fall into their lap. Not only was he an amazing running back and consisted touchdown scoring asset, new head coach Todd McVay unleashed Gurley’s talents in the passing game.

The similarities between David Johnson in 2018 and Todd Gurley in 2016 are striking. Both entered their down season as an elite draft pick after posting impressive numbers in the previous season (Johnson’s was two years prior due to a season-ending injury in 2017). Both players played for an offense with injuries to the offensive line and a terrible offensive play caller, and both of them failed to get an adequate number of receptions in the passing game.

Johnson followed up his breakout 20-touchdown season with just over 1300 total yards and 10 total touchdowns. Although he did receive 258 carries, the Cardinals under Mike McCoy continued to run an antiquated offense with carry after carry into stacked boxes. Johnson’s yard per carry average dropped from 4.2 to 3.6 yards per attempt, and he saw 30 fewer receptions than 2016.

History appears to be repeating itself in the NFC West, with the fantasy community dropping a former No.1 fantasy running back outside the top 12 as Johnson currently owns an ADP of 14th overall.

As was the case with Gurley, the Cardinals completely revamped their offense with additions to the offensive line, skill position players on the outside, a new quarterback, and a young offensive mind at head coach.

The Cardinals drafted wide receivers Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler while bolstering the offensive line Marcus Gilbert and JR Sweezy.

While it is way too early to compare Kliff Kingsbury to Sean McVay, and it is likely that first overall pick Kyler Murray will suffer similar growing pains that afflict most rookie quarterbacks, there is no argument that the offense for the Cardinals is vastly improved from last year.

At 14th overall, the market is currently pricing Johnson based on what he did last year and not what his ceiling may be with the new changes in Arizona. Fantasy owners should learn from the mistakes made by many in 2017 when the industry turned a cold shoulder on Gurley, and take the plunge on Johnson at the end of the first or early second round.