David Johnson's Analytics in 2016 Were as Ridiculous as You'd Expect
Six months ago, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson posted this video of himself doing 500-pound back squats, which ironically served as foreshadowing for his season.
The Cardinals literally put their entire offense on Johnson’s shoulders, and he carried the load with uncanny steadiness and consistency.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s ridiculously dominant and historic 2016 season ended on a discouraging note when he suffered a knee injury that knocked him out of a meaningless Week 17 game against the Los Angeles Rams. His early departure snapped his streak of 15 straight games with 100-plus scrimmage yards, which matched a record set by Barry Sanders in 1997.
For the sake of all that is good in this universe, you hopefully wrapped up your fantasy football season in Week 16 and rode off into the sunset with a league title on the heels of Johnson’s 136 scrimmage yards and 3 touchdowns in that game.
Let’s look at how the rest of Johnson’s season shaped up both for 2016 and historically.
Johnson’s 327.80 standard fantasy points this season marked the highest total at the position since Chris Johnson put up 342.90 standard points in 2009.
The Cardinals’ second-year phenom averaged 20.5 standard fantasy points per game and 25.5 PPR fantasy points per contest. He was the only running back in the entire NFL to reach the 300-point mark in standard scoring, besting Ezekiel Elliott by 34.40 points, and was the lone back to reach the 400-point mark in PPR, beating Zeke by 82.40 points in that format.
His two-plus scrimmage touchdowns in eight different games marked the most by a player since Randy Moss in 2007 (including three different three-score games).
Johnson also set Cardinals franchise records with 2,118 scrimmage yards (the most by a running back since DeMarco Murray's 2,261 yards in 2014) and 20 total touchdowns (the most by a running back since LeSean McCoy's 20 in 2011).
Excluding Week 17, Johnson averaged 24 touches and 138 scrimmage yards per game for the season.
As a runner, Elliott was better statistically than Johnson this season by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how many points a player adds to his team's expected scoring output.
Zeke's 35.79 Rushing NEP blew Johnson’s mark of -0.53 away, but because the latter was such a beast as a receiver, it simply didn’t matter.
In today’s NFL, versatility at the running back position goes a long way, and Johnson’s production proved that it’s worth investing in backs who can do everything.
In addition to his 293 rush attempts, the Northern Iowa product received more targets (120) and hauled in more receptions (80) than any other back in the league. Since 2000, only six other running backs who have logged at least 250 carries in a season also had 80 or more receptions; Johnson is in good company.
Those players are: Marshall Faulk (twice), Ladainian Tomlinson, Le'Veon Bell, Steven Jackson, Matt Forte, and Brian Westbrook. Johnson also joined Bell, Faulk, and Jackson as the fourth different player with at least 1,200 rushing yards and 800 receiving yards in the same season.
Johnson saw 19 percent of the Cardinals’ passing targets, ranking second on the team in total targets, receptions, receiving yards, and tied for second with four receiving touchdowns. In fact, he led Arizona in one or more receiving stat(s) on five different occasions during the season:
In Week 2, he led the team in receiving yards (98) and in Week 8 (84). In Week 11, he led the Cardinals in targets (11) and receptions (8).
His 11 targets, 8 catches, and 108 yards in Week 12 were all top marks on his team, and in Week 13, he again led in targets (12) and receiving yards (91).
High-Volume Metrics Monster
Among 19 high-volume backs in 2016 -- that is, running backs who logged 205-plus carries on the season -- Johnson’s 129 rush successes (carries that increased NEP) ranked him second among the group only to Elliott (151).
Johnson ranked first or second in nine vital metrics among this group of backs for the season.
|Johnson's Metrics and Ranks||2016 Totals||2016 Rank|
|Reception NEP Per Target||0.58||2nd|
|Reception Success Rate||0.76||2nd|
His Reception NEP of 69.65 was the highest among running backs in 2016. The mark also ranks Johnson third-highest among running backs dating back to 2000 (as far back as numberFire metrics go) among over 2,500 backs to log at least one reception in that span, and the second-highest among 226 running backs who have logged 250-plus carries since 2000.
Of those 226 backs, 19 of them have recorded 70-plus receptions in a season.
Johnson’s aforementioned Reception NEP ranks him second among that group of backs with 250 or more rushes and at least 70 catches as well.
|Johnson's Metrics and Ranks||2016 Totals||nF historical rank|
|Reception NEP Per Target||0.58||4th|
|Reception Success Rate||0.76||3rd|
Johnson’s 879 receiving yards were the most by a running back since Charlie Garner recorded 941 yards on his 91 receptions in 2002 with the Oakland Raiders. Garner actually owns the highest Reception NEP (74.83) among all running backs in a single season dating back to 2000. Only Marshall Faulk’s 2000 campaign (70.27 Reception NEP) stands between Johnson’s 2016 mark and Garner’s record.
Johnson’s 69.12 Total NEP for the season ranked him first among backs with 200-plus carries in 2016 and 10th since 2000 among said sample of backs. His Total NEP ranked him 6th since 2000 among running backs with 250-plus carries and 70-plus receptions in a single season and 13th overall among all running backs to record a reception this century. (Wipes sweat off brow, chugs a Gatorade.)
Despite Arizona’s failure to make the playoffs, the second-year back is still considered worthy of MVP candidacy by some pundits because of his all-purpose dominance. There’s no question that David Johnson should be the top overall pick in fantasy football in 2017 drafts.