David Johnson has been one of the most frustrating players to own in fantasy football over the past two seasons. Blessed with incredible talent, Johnson has been a top-five pick in each of the past two seasons. However, a combination of injuries and atrocious coaching have caused his value to plummet entering the 2019 fantasy football season. Is now the time to buy low on Johnson, or is his current draft positioning reflective of his fantasy value?
Fantasy Football 2019 Season Preview: David Johnson
David Johnson did not live up to his lofty expectations in 2018. Selected as a top-five pick in most fantasy football formats, Johnson struggled to overcome an atrocious situation. The fourth-year running back finished his season with 940 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to go along with 50 receptions for 446 yards and an additional three scores. He still had a decent season, finishing the year as the RB10 in half-PPR formats. However, fantasy owners expected more out of the superstar running back.
Most of the fault for Johnson’s lackluster season falls on forces outside of his control. The 2018 Arizona Cardinals were a study in organizational ineptitude and fielded one of the worst rosters in the league. The offensive line was atrocious, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired midway through the season for his bland and uncreative scheme, and Josh Rosen who wasn’t ready for the big stage. Nobody could succeed in this environment, and the fact Johnson still managed to finish as a top 10 running back is a testament to his ability.
Everything has changed for David Johnson in 2019. Quarterback Josh Rosen and head coach Steve Wilks are gone and replaced by first-overall pick Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury has never coached above the collegiate level, so it’s anyone’s guess if his “Air Raid” offense will translate to the NFL.
For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that Kingsbury’s offense is able to function at the NFL level. We already broke down how Johnson fits into the Air Raid scheme in an earlier article, so we’ll give the abbreviated version here. Basically, the Air Raid offense is a pass-heavy scheme which rarely utilizes the running back. Kingsbury’s college offense threw the ball on 64.8% of their offensive plays and hardly targeted running backs in the passing game.
The good news is that Kingsbury tends to use one running back when one player is a superior talent. Johnson is unquestionably the most talented running back on Arizona’s roster and should see the majority of the work. Additionally, the Air Raid offense operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun. Johnson is a significantly better runner out of the shotgun formation, so Kingsbury’s offense should play to his strengths, to an extent.
Johnson is one of the most talented running backs of his era and still has the ability to be one of the best running backs in the fantasy landscape. However, Kingsbury’s scheme won’t play to Johnson’s favor and general manager Steve Keim didn’t even try to fix the offensive line. Johnson’s god given talent can overcome a lot, but his unfavorable situation will limit his ultimate ceiling.
Average Draft Position
According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Johnson is projected to be the 14th-overall pick in half-PPR formats, and the ninth running back off the board. As far as running backs are concerned, this places Johnson right between James Conner and Nick Chubb on the overall draft boards.
This fit feels about right, as Johnson is still one of the elite talents in the league. He’s a threat in both the passing and running game and has the ability to break out chunk-yardage plays. Kliff Kingsbury likes to play just one running back, which obviously helps Johnson’s value. Additionally, the Cardinals should run a shotgun-heavy offense, which plays to Johnson’s strengths.
The biggest limiting factor for Johnson is that he’s not a perfect fit for the Air Raid offense. Kingsbury’s offensive philosophy centers on a pass-happy attack in a vertical offense. Johnson’s a good pass catcher, but he’s not a deep threat. Because of this, he probably won’t see much work in the passing game. He’s still a week-in, week-out starter, but he won’t be the superstar he was in 2016.
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