Award season was built for discussion and “controversy.” (You need the quote marks because, really, debating who should be MVP or all-pro doesn’t rank among the big questions our world faces today.) So Pro Football Focus came out with their year-end awards, and Cardinals running back David Johnson was honored — as the best receiver in the NFL.
There isn’t a whole lot of detail. It notes that Johnson had more catches for more yards than any other running back. That’s fine, although there are obviously a ton of wide receivers that eclipsed his numbers. PFF notes that on their scale (there are no specifics listed on their grading system), Johnson’s receiving grade of 92.6 is higher than any player in the NFL. Coming in behind Johnson was Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans.
What’s interesting about the grades is that Johnson, multiple times this season, pointed out how he had screwed up routes he had run. At the end of the year, in fact, Johnson said that had he not messed up so often (especially earlier in the year) he would have easily reached the 1,000-yard mark in receiving and gotten into the coveted 1,000-1,000 club.
The Cardinals and PFF have been down this road before. Last season, PFF called Tyrann Mathieu — technically listed as a safety — the best cornerback in the NFL after all his slot work. PFF did have Mathieu playing the majority of his snaps in the slot last season and not safety. In Johnson’s case, he was a running back all the way through, save for a limited amount of times he might have split out wide as a true wideout. To be fair, PFF gave the award to the best receiver, not the best wide receiver. A tight end, in theory, could have been the pick. And there is no question Johnson was fantastic as a pass catcher (he averaged more yards per catch than Larry Fitzgerald, actually.) But this will certainly be a debated concept.
UPDATE: PFF just posted a full article on their reasoning. They make the point Johnson is doing things as a receiver at a much higher level than other running backs. They point out that sometimes, he’s doing things like a receiver or tight end would. Here is a crucial passage: “The point isn’t to compare Johnson to Mike Evans and Julio Jones route-for-route or claim that he is doing the things they are doing better, but rather to compare receiving within their respective roles.”
I get where that would make Johnson a great receiver out of the backfield, the best in the league. And incredibly effective. I don’t know how that makes him the best receiver in the NFL.
Tags: David Johnson, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Pro Football Focus
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