David Johnson as “best receiver” in the NFL

Posted by Darren Urban on January 25, 2017 – 10:11 am

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.


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27 Responses to “David Johnson as “best receiver” in the NFL”

  1. By clssylssy on Jan 25, 2017 | Reply

    So does that mean that when contract times comes, he will get paid as a WR?
    I can’t help but remember all the who-ha over Jimmy Graham wanting to get paid as a WR while being a TE. It seems that with the evolution of “hybrid” positions, the lines are getting blurred except when it comes to the time to get paid, when franchises ALWAYS do what’s financially more advantageous for themselves.
    I think David is a great and talented player but better than Julio Jones…don’t think so…what percentage of time was he functioning as a receiver, running routes, double and triple teamed etc.? He probably COULD BE a best receiver but maybe he should pick a position? He would probably have more longevity as a receiver…how many years did Marshawn Lynch play…7 years?

  2. By D on Jan 25, 2017 | Reply

    Let’s assume both Carson and Larry play in 2017. AZ will attempt to make 1 more run at the NFC Championship…

    I just do not see the Cards being able to pay C. Campbell 11 mil or more per year as he made this year and could demand more even at his age on a 3 yr deal.
    I also don’t see the Cards being able to pay T. Jefferson 6mil or more per year either.
    I don’t want to see either player leave, but the economics of it and the fact that there are plenty of other NFL teams in need that have tons of Cap Space that they can afford to pay a high $ amount. C. Jones franchise amount will eat a large chunk of the Cards Cap Space.

    I would release DWash this spring to free up some cap space and give Darren a much needed break from those questions..

    Mr. Keim should focus on resigning DJ Swearinger and J. Gresham and bring in a veteran DL player that could help while Gunter and Nkemdiche develop.

    Resign A.Q Shipley, C.Johnson, Catman , S. Moore and M. Cooper. If a long term deal appears difficult with C. Jones, then I would even attempt to resign A. Okafor.

    Free agents that AZ should consider: DL – Margus Hunt, or Tony Jerod Eddie; RB-Christine Michael or Robert Turbin; G/T Luke Joeckel; WR-Justin Hunter or Marquise Goodwin

  3. By mitchaz on Jan 25, 2017 | Reply

    (Past 3 Years Combined) QB Home and Away Passer Ratings

    Interesting numbers:

    H-1; A-21

    H-2; A-4

    H-4; A-5

    H-5; A-3

    H-6; A-6

    H-11; A-13

    H-3; A-1

    H-9; A-11

    H-8; A-2

  4. By D on Jan 25, 2017 | Reply

    PFF should qualify that statement even more to say, “Best RB acting like a WR”

    Curious on the development of Z. Dysert and X. Williams this offseason, Mr. Keim has shown so far that he believes they could have opportunities here…

  5. By Scott H on Jan 25, 2017 | Reply

    OK. Whatever. For the most part, I have not paid a whole lot of attention to all this Pro Football Focus stuff. To my ears, it was nowhere on the landscape 5 years ago. Yet, now, it seems to want to be considered indispensible. Again, whatever.

    I just prefer to watch the games and have my own impressions. Granted, you can’t watch every game, every week, but….who cares? I don’t want or need to do that, either.

    I feel the same about other entities such as Red Zone and the NFL Network. Really, I didn’t need them to be a fan 10,15,20 years ago, so….why do I need them now? Yes, the Red Zone was TOTALLY created by / for fantasy football – which I DO love. But I hate the concept of Red Zone, where it’s just nothing but scoring highlights. There are plenty of post-game shows for that. When the games are on, people should watch them.

    But it’s not like that anymore. People want sensory over-load, I guess. People need to be at a sports bar with all the games on AND Red Zone AND getting fantasy up-dates on their phones all at the same time. To me, that’s just crazy. Just give me a decent game to watch and I’m happy. Heck, even with that, you still have a constant scroll running across the screen the whole time!

    All that said, I’m glad DJ is being recognized for how special he is.

  6. By Marlin on Jan 25, 2017 | Reply

    Is Ulrick John on our radar as a reserve for next season? Did he have shoulder surgery or was he able to avoid the operating room for recovery.

  7. By Darren Urban on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    Marlin —

    RE: John

    I believe he had surgery but I do not know for sure. I do expect him to be around at camp — we will see if he wins a roster spot.

  8. By mitchaz on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    * What makes the Cardinals’ #2 RB scenario so intriguing is David Johnson’s tremendous talent at WR. Late in the season, teams were taking the double teams off Fitz and putting them on Johnson whenever he lined up at WR.

    * Acquiring a similarly versatile RB/WR who BA can interchange with Johnson could take the offense to another level and make it supremely challenging to defend. To me, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (RB/slot WR/PR) is made to order. Not only would the Cardinals get the most dynamic all-purpose playmaker in the draft, they would finally get a punt returner who can flip the field.

    * The Falcons’ offense doesn’t miss a beat when they interchange Donta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Yet, In Atlanta, they don’t usually play Freeman and Coleman at the same time, because they don’t typically line either one of them up in the slot.

    * In Arizona, Johnson and McCaffrey would often be on the field at the same time, one of them being in the slot or one off-set in the backfield. Some skeptics say, well you don’t draft a backup in the first round. Sure. But, let’s make this clear. McCaffrey would not be a backup. He’s too talented not to be on the field on a regular basis. If the Pats were to draft him (and you know they would), they would flip flop him between RB and slot WR and rarely take him off the field.

  9. By clssylssy on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    IMO, David Johnson should have been the “Breakout Player of the Year” rather than “Best Receiver”.

  10. By Scott H on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    Not related to anything but thought this was interesting…and kinda sad. Leading up to the games last weekend, one pre-game show I was watching did a list of the 10 greatest events to ever take place in the Falcons home stadium. So, I’m expecting lots of Falcons games to be on the list. Wrong! There only TWO Falcons games on the list, and I think the Falcons actually lost both of them. The other events included a SB, a college game, a few basketball games, and some Olympic events.

    REALLY?? How sad is that, that in a stadium where the Falcons have played for the last 25 years, it seems like they have barely left a mark on the place. I thought that was embarrassing. BUT, at least they chalked up an NFC title game win on their way out the door.

  11. By Wild Blue Yonder on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    You don’t think that BA would hire Tom Clements as OC now that he’s leaving the Pack, do you??? Naahhhh!!! 🙂

  12. By mitchaz on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    I think that Sportrac, although certainly not perfect, does a solid job projecting the market value of UFAs.

    Here are some of the ones they have determined thus far—and my question to you is—would you want to sign any of these free agents at these market values?

    BTW—I have listed all the Cardinals’ UFAs whose market values they have determined thus far—it is a work in progress.

    DE Calais Campbell (30)—-4/$34M/$8.4M (yearly ave.)
    DE Chris Baker (29)—4/$29.8M/$7.4M
    DT Kawann Short (27)—5/$86M/$17.2M

    Yes—Campbell—fair value, imo.

    EDGE Chandler Jones (26)—5/$81.3/$16.2
    EDGE DeMarcus Ware (34)—2/$15.3M/$7.6M
    EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul (28)—5/$73M/$14.6M
    EDGE Andre Branch (27)—5/$36.5M/$7.3M

    No—Jones—too pricey, imo.
    Yes—Branch—like the athleticism and size at that price

    G Kevin Zeitler (26)—5/$58M/$11.6M
    C J.C. Tretter (25)—-6/$52.5M/$8.7M
    G Ron Leary (27)—4/$36.5/$9.1M
    G T.J. Lang (29)—4/$33.6/$8.4M

    No—too pricey for all these guys

    SS Tony Jefferson (24)—5/$31M/$6.1M
    FS Eric Berry (28)—4/$36.5M/$9.1M

    Yes—Berry—what a coup that would be for the Cardinals.
    No—Jefferson—at $4.8 a year, yes, but not at $6.1

    CB Prince Amukamara (27)—4/$43.9M/$10.9M
    CB Trumaine Johnson (27)—4/$52.2/$13M

    No—too pricey

    WR Alshon Jeffery (26)—5/$61M/$12.2M
    WR DeSean Jackson (30)—2/$15.2M/$7.6M
    WR Terrelle Pryor (27)—4/$35.6/$8.9M
    WR Kenny Stills (24)—5/$41.2M/$8.2M
    WR Terrence Williams (27)—4/$33M/$8.2M
    WR Kenny Britt (28)—3/$20.1/$6.7M

    Yes—Jeffrey—the age and price are right.
    Yes—Stills—I think he could be dynamic in our offense

    QB Kurt Cousins—5/$117M/$23.4M

    No—not elite enough for that salary

    What contracts would you accept?

  13. By clssylssy on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply

    Nice work. I agree on Campbell and Branch, Chris Baker and Kawann Short way out of our price range, would take Jefferson–Berry will stay in KC (they love him). Of the receivers, I like Jeffery, but Stills was bad lockerroom guy in NOLA, they dumped him. Jackson, not worth what he thinks he should get, don’t see him fitting into our culture. Cousins will take FT again in Washington.

  14. By mitchaz on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply


    Good assessments. I think you could correct all the way around.

    Maybe we are better off taking a WR in the draft. On second thought, Jeffery is oft-injured and one off-field incident away from suspension and i was only thinking of him if Larry retires—which I hope is not the case.

    Been watching tapes of Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington and Zay Jones of East Carolina. Very impressed with both of them. I really like Isaiah Ford of Virginia Tech, as well.

    Your boy Peterman has been the best QB thus far at the Senior Bowl. I wonder what the Cardinals’ scouts think of him.

  15. By JTDG on Jan 26, 2017 | Reply



    Since no one stepped up to take Campbell’s spot, it is risky to let him walk.
    Campbell is a yes.


    Chandler Jones made a difference with the cardinals. His presence made everyone else better.
    Jones is a Yes


    My thought is Iupati is in his last year with the cards. He will count 9+ million next year, and if released will give over 6 million in relief in 2018. Signing Zietler would pair two pro bowl guards for 2017 and the contract could be absorbed in 2018+.
    Zietler is Yes


    Badger wants to play close to the line. He is going to be the SS in 2017. Swearinger is good at FS and if Badger goes down, he can move into SS. Releasing Branch would free up 3 million in cap space.


    No to both the CBs you listed. I like Gilmore or Bouye. With Badger moving to SS, the cards need to keep Bethel and resign Cooper. One of them will come in for nickle. I think the cards will draft a CB who can return kicks and play the slot also.
    Yes to Gilmore


    Forget all the FAs. Draft a WR. I would hope to Fitz, Jaron Brown, John Brown, and JJ Nelson all come back healthy. With the addition of of a rookie like Mike Williams or JJ Smith Shuester would round this group out.


    Nothing unless you get Kizer in the second round. But I sign and draft no one else. Palmer / Stanton

  16. By clssylssy on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    Wonder if they would consider switching DJ to WR, resigning Chris Johnson (David credited Chris with his mentoring and much teaching plus he’s still fast and fearless), developing Elijah Penney and AGGRESSIVELY going after Leonard Fournette (friend of Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson)? LSU turns out quality playmakers year after year and we might as well use our connections there for recruiting quality talent. They also have a good Corner in TreDavious White, who would complete our set!
    I’m sure that sounds kinda out of the box, but why start from scratch if we have pieces who already know the system, and we can cut time off the learning curve?
    Plus, WRs have longer careers than RBs, and it seems they may have found their replacement for Fitz in David (although nobody will ever replace Fitz)?

  17. By D on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    AZ won’t have the coin to outspend the Bengals on G, Zietler. I would hope Mr. Keim will pursue L. Warford from Detroit, he would be much cheaper and one heck of a run blocking Guard. He would be a nice upgrade for all who played RG this past year.

    WR-Cards need to add one this offseason, but doubtful they would take a WR at #13 of the draft unless Larry walks away.

    Keeping Campbell would require some tricky accounting. I don’t see him playing for less than 8mil per year on a 4 year deal or less than 11 mil on a 3 yr deal, Cards can’t afford those numbers if they are stuck with the Franchise Tag on Jones.

    With the $ already invested in PP, HoneyBadger and hopefully on either Jefferson or Swearinger, No way the Cards can afford a Free agent CB this free agency.

    First Round CB options for AZ that are big/play man:

    1- S. Jones WA
    2-M. Humphrey OSU
    3-C. Tankersley Clem

    All would be cheaper and could start and be an upgrade by mid year. I would also bring back M. Cooper to compete.

    Say a miracle happens and the Saints and Bengals pass on R. Foster ILB from ALA and is here at #13, Cards wouldn’t pass him up.

    Then, AZ could draft a C. Awuzie CB Colorado or R. Douglas W. Virginia CB later in either Rounds 2 or 3.

    If Palmer comes back, then I don’t see them doing much at QB besides seeing what they have in Z. Dysert.

  18. By Scott H on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    Switching DJ to WR? WHY??? Absolutely not.

    DJ being the “replacement” for Fitz? Oh, my….double absolutely not.

    DJ is already on his way to being the best all-purpose RB in the NFL. WHY we would do anything to switch him to another position is beyond me.

    And, no, there is no replacing a player like Larry Fitzgerald but when that day comes, his place on the roster should be filled by a true WR.

  19. By mitchaz on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    JTDG, Classy—

    Here are some hunches:

    Cardinals Sign:

    OLB/DE Chandler Jones (AZ)—he plays this year on the f-tag
    OLB Alex Okafor (AZ)
    DE Lawrence Guy (BAL)—Calais Campbell to WASH
    LB Sio Moore (AZ)—Kevin Minter to SF
    CB Dre Kirkpatrick (CIN)—Marcus Cooper to BUF
    FS D.J. Swearinger (AZ)—Tony Jefferson to SD
    QB Mike Glennon (TB)—Drew Stanton traded to TB for 2018 7th rounder
    WR Pierre Garcon (WAS)
    TE Darren Fells (AZ)—Jermaine Gresham to CHI
    C A.Q. Shipley
    G Austin Pasztor (CLE)

    Cardinals Draft:

    1. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
    2. Hassan Reddick, LB, Temple
    3. ArDarius Stewart, WR, Alabama
    4. John Johnson, FS, Boston Coilege
    5. Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson
    5. Sam Rogers, FB/RB/ST, Virginia Tech
    6. Cole Croston, G, Iowa
    7. Paul Magliore, SS/LB, Arizona St.

  20. By clssylssy on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    ROFL! I QUITE AGREE with you there…there will NEVER be another Larry Fitzgerald. However, it does seem that the organization is always looking for a new “face” (IMO this is not something that is assigned but rather an association built through years of greatness on and off the field). At one time, it seemed that might be PP, then the Honey Bader, now David Johnson…just say’n?
    As things get a little dull and redundant this time a year, I think it’s always fun to shake things up by thinking of different ways to use the resources at hand, and my suggestion was simply a thought to get the conversation moving. Nonetheless, I did notice several teams using players in roles different from what we know them as playing. However, if David Johnson is the “Best Receiver in the NFL”, wouldn’t it make sense to use him as a WR? I mean, better than Julio, Antonio, Odell, Dez, AJ? Plus, at WR, he would be in a more protected role and would likely not run as high of risk of a nasty, season/career ending injury?
    And, I agree with you that DJ is on his way to being the best every all purpose RB in the NFL, but putting him in multiple roles also exposes him to increased multiple risks, so do we want to roll the dice in a game that is becoming more physical every year? Larry has had 13, relatively healthy, good years as compared to Marshawn Lynch’s 7 and early retirement b/c of injury. Jimmy Graham has never been paid as a WR and missed an entire year playing what really amounted to a hybrid slot receiver position. Of course, one could say the Seahawks play more physical football but isn’t that what’s winning Championships? RBs just seem to have a short shelf life, e.g., increased exposure=increased risk.
    Just throwing out some wild free association type thoughts…lol, desperate for some levity!

  21. By Big Ken on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    The Guards: Cut Iupati, sign Zietler, draft Feeney (2nd round).

  22. By Scott H on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    clssylssy –

    Yeah, we are heading into that very empty and depressing part of the season where there is just a big void. Not having made the playoffs, it already seems like months since our last game. As football fans, we have the SB and then….pretty much nothing. Well, I say nothing because I’m not a draft guy ( like JTDG and many others ) and all that combine stuff does nothing for me.

    As it is only late January, the 2017 season seems years away. I’ve always hated this time of year.

    But I shouldn’t say there is nothing going on because there definitely is – as we speak, Larry Fitzgerald is thinking about playing again in 2017 vs retiring. And that is HUGE. I know he said that his body doesn’t really start to feel recovered until Feb or so…..but I wonder when he will actually make his decision known. Knowing him, he will not want to hold the team up in any way. So it HAS to be before the draft. But might he want to see what the team does during FA before he decides? I would say that is reasonable for any player.

    But then again, I also wonder if he already knows what he wants to do.

    All I know is that until I know…..there will be no harmony in my universe.

  23. By Big Ken on Jan 27, 2017 | Reply

    Gilmore- I like the idea of this played on the team but I think the Bills franchise tag him. I think he’s all about the money and holds the leverage.

  24. By clssylssy on Jan 29, 2017 | Reply

    Again, it’s obvious you’ve put a lot of thought into this. Personally, I like continuity and would keep as many of our defensive FA as possible. With the way we draft, it seems that we never get the benefit of all our investment and by the time the players develop and begin turning heads, it’s time for them to hit FA and we can’t afford to keep them! At the end of the season our defense was starting to come together and now we are ready to dump some of our most effective players and begin the cycle over again? As long as BA/SK draft “projects” for the future, I don’t see us being much more than a farm team. I know there is a Cap, but this is where a good GM comes in and what separates the average Joes from the really good GMs–I consider Keim an average Joe.
    We know what Jefferson, Swearinger, Campbell, Jones, can bring to the table, what is going to make some other FA more valuable when they are going to be behind to begin with? Durability is major and getting a player who has a history of injury,is on the market b/c they never got to really develop is another project that we need to weigh–starting off fixing players puts us behind to start. While we are all hoping Tyrann Mathieu will return to his previous form, there are no guarantees, he is older, his life is now more settled and he’s pretty comfortable with his cushy contract. Seems we have more questions than definitive facts.
    While I like continuity, I like competitiveness even more and don’t mind churning the roster to keep guys competing for their job, Seattle and New England do this on a regular basis, and it seems to keep everyone on their toes. I like incentive driven contracts too. and part of what made some of the veterans so valuable that Keim has picked up late was the incentives built into their contracts…Freeney, Abraham, Chris Johnson, Cory Redding, etc. These guys are naturally competitive guys who were competing against themselves essentially but contributed great value to the team, at the same time, as a result of getting incentives. (I see this as Keim’s real strength)
    I’m not really a big draft person anymore. I use to be, but have found to fall in love with any certain players is only to be disappointed. I take the position of expecting the worse and then being thrilled if we happen to get lucky! I grew up in the midwest on football and tend to favor certain schools there, as well as, the SEC (and now ASU). I REALLY wanted Tyler Lockett but try not to get that hopeful anymore as I’m clearly not on the same page as Arians/Keim. We almost never look at the local talent (the kicker from ASU was pretty darn good at the Senior Bowl but I’m sure we’d never give him a glance). I like the chemistry and competitiveness we had in the secondary with the guys from the SEC, and LSU always turns out NFL ready players–I really could see us having a powerhouse secondary with their Corner TreDavious White.
    I’m really feeling burned out right now so am just interested in reading what you, JTDG, D, Creditcard, and others, thoughts are on the draft.

  25. By CardsNation on Jan 29, 2017 | Reply


    Kevin Zeitler should be cheaper than everyone you listed abover……

  26. By clssylssy on Jan 30, 2017 | Reply

    PP”s throw to OBJ in the ProBowl underscores my point about that LSU “magic” and what a good “fishing hole” for talent LSU has been consistently through the years. I think there are five former LSU players who will be in this year’s SB–Les Miles was a Master at turning out NFL ready talent!

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