Fantasy Football: Breaking Down David Johnson In The Byron Leftwich Offense

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David Johnson
GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 28: Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs during the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at State Farm Stadium on October 28, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The prayers of fantasy football owners everywhere were answered when the Arizona Cardinals fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy had numerous shortcomings as a playcaller, but chief among them was his inability to incorporate star running back David Johnson into the offense. Johnson is one of the most talented backs in all of football, yet McCoy’s stubborn playcalling drastically limited how good Johnson could be. With McCoy out of the picture, Byron Leftwich took over as offensive coordinator, giving hope to millions of fantasy football owners worldwide.

The Cardinals took on the San Francisco 49ers and Johnson owners finally got a glimpse into how Leftwich runs an offense. Is Leftwich the savior so many have hoped for, or will he continue to use Johnson in the same predictable manner as McCoy?

Fantasy Football: How Bryon Leftwich Used David Johnson

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Week Eight was not a breakout game for Johnson. The fourth-year running back finished the game with 59 yards on 16 carries to go along with 41 receiving yards on four receptions. While this wasn’t a bad outing by any means, it’s basically in line with his typical performance. Johnson averaged 15 carries for 48 yards to go along with three receptions for 24 yards during the first seven weeks of the season.

Expecting production to come after one week, however, is asking for a lot. At this point in the Leftwich Era, it’s about process more than it is results. Johnson is a supremely talented player, and if used properly, it’s only a matter of time before he starts playing up to his potential. The question now becomes, did Leftwich use Johnson properly?

Analyzing Johnson’s Usage

Unfortunately, after one week it looks like more of the same. As previously mentioned, Johnson hauled in four passes during Sunday’s matchup against the 49ers. Those four passes were his only targets of the night, which continues an unfortunate McCoy trend. Despite being one of the most talented pass-catching backs in football, the Cardinals coaching staff thus far refuses to make him a major part of the passing game. Johnson’s averaged four targets per game with McCoy and received exactly four in his first game with Leftwich. All in all, not the most encouraging sign.

Additionally, Johnson’s directional running is still less than ideal. Perhaps the biggest problem with McCoy’s offense was his predictability with Johnson’s usage. Through the first seven games of the season, McCoy ran Johnson directly behind center on a staggering 60% of all rushing attempts. Defenses knew exactly where Johnson was going and were able to lock in a slow him down. Shifting up his directional rushing even a little bit should have gone a long way into making Johnson a more successful player.

However, Johnson’s predictable usage continued under Leftwich. Per SharpFootballStats.com, Johnson ran 12 of his 16 carries directly behind center. This is astonishingly predictable, especially considering these runs didn’t work that well. Johnson averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on his 12 runs up the middle, with only one going for more than ten yards. Perhaps the Cardinals believed they could run up the middle effectively even if the 49ers knew it was coming. However, it was clear that they couldn’t do that, yet Leftwich and the offense never adjusted.

Last Word On David Johnson’s Early Returns

Granted, this is just one week, so it’s obviously a small sample size. However, all early returns suggest that Leftwich is not the savior David Johnson deserves. Leftwich didn’t utilize Johnson in the passing game and continued the infuriating trend of exclusively running Johnson up the middle.

The best hope from here on out is that Lefwich simply didn’t have enough time to install his plays into the offense. Installing an offense is obviously a difficult task and one that takes a significant amount of time. It’s too early for David Johnson owners to panic, but at the same time, you’re not out of the woods yet. Continue to hold on to David Johnson, but don’t be afraid to sell high should some other team see a disproportionate amount of value in Johnson.

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