If the NFL created a fantasy draft, where teams emptied their rosters and general managers got an opportunity to start from scratch, the order in which some players were selected would probably surprise a lot of people.
Take running back for example. So much fuss has been made over Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell all year long—for good reasons, of course. Elliott led the league in rushing yards as a rookie and cemented his place atop the running back hierarchy alongside Bell, the multi-dimensional back who runs with a beautiful blend of stop and acceleration.
There’s no going wrong with picking either of those players to start off a team, but by doing so, the GM would be missing out on the best available option, which is Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson.
The former third-round pick out of Northern Iowa can do it all. On the ground, he is a human lawnmower that can chew up 1,000 yards worth of grass in a season. Through the air, he can rival a team’s best receiver. If a quarterback needs help in pass protection, throw in Johnson and watch him act like a human shield.
He’s a jack-of-all-trades type of running back that rarely comes along in in the NFL. Even at the top of the heap, his uniqueness would make him a sure-fire grab over Bell and Elliott, respectfully.
When broached on the subject, former NFL star Warrick Dunn saw things the same way. He believed Johnson’s versatility made him the best option at running back.
“Actually, I’m a David Johnson fan,” said Dunn, during an appearance on Good Morning Football. “I met him after his rookie year at the Super Bowl and I was just a fan just because he’s so humble but at the same time, he’s a guy who has come from nowhere. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar and he’s really come into his own to become a complete back. He catches the ball out of the backfield, he can block, he can run between the tackles and outside. He’s really impressed me.”
Bell might be the league’s most transcendent talent, but his availability is often a question mark for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s either injured or dealing with a suspension that keeps him sidelined for multiple games. He has only played one season in its entirety in the four years he’s been in the league.
The Steelers also have a good offensive line. Pro Football Focus had them ranked at No. 3 for the 2016 season. The No. 2 spot went to the Dallas Cowboys’ impenetrable line Elliott runs behind. “Zeke” is definitely a freak, but it also helps that he’s running behind arguably the best offensive line in pro football.
Johnson ran for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns behind one of the worst lines in the league. He also had 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns. If not for Larry Fitzgerald continuing to play like a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Johnson would have led the Cardinals in rushing and receiving yards.
Bell and Elliott would be fine choices, but nitpicking narrows the best option down to Johnson. He performed the best last season under the least ideal circumstances. He was the Swiss Army knife player running behind a Swiss cheese line.
That has to count for something.
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