David Johnson is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — sort of.
Last season, he became the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns on a run, a catch and a kickoff return in his first two games, and because of that, the folks in Canton asked for his jersey and cleats to display.
As we all know, Johnson did not slow down after Week 2. The third-round pick out of Northern Iowa set a rookie franchise record for total touchdowns, with 13, while running for 581 yards on 125 carries and catching 36 passes for 457 yards.
Johnson’s performance down the stretch and in the postseason solidified his role as the Cardinals’ No. 1 running back, and since then there has been no shortage of excitement over the 24-year-old’s future.
If his ridiculous workout routine doesn’t pump people up over what could be in store, a quote from Arizona’s running backs coach Stump Mitchell might.
A great NFL back in his own right, Mitchell — in the final episode of the Amazon series “All or Nothing,” had nothing but praise for Johnson.
“The only thing you can control is David, and you did a good job,” Mitchell said, before adding Johnson was the running back he wanted the team to pick because he thought the Northern Iowa product was better than Todd Gurley, who was chosen 10th overall and was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“The Hall of Fame — you should have a bust when your ass is done playing,” he added. “Hopefully, if you can stay healthy.
“I’ve coached some good backs; ain’t no question you’re a Hall of Fame guy. None whatsoever.”
At the NFL level, Mitchell coached elite runners Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander in Seattle as well as Clinton Portis in Washington. As a player, Mitchell finished his career second in Cardinals franchise history in total rushing yards, third in rushing attempts, fourth in rushing touchdowns and second in rushing average. His 14 100-yard rushing games rank second, too.
So while Mitchell’s praise of Johnson may feature some hyperbole, at the same time, it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about quality running backs.
So, is Johnson destined to arrive in Canton in, say, 15 years or so?
A guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday, ESPN NFL insider John Clayton said folks around the league are a bit more guarded about trying to predict Johnson’s future, but that does not mean they are unimpressed.
“I think they realize there’s a special back there,” he said, adding that Cardinals assistant Tom Moore compares Johnson to Franco Harris.
Harris, of course, is in the Hall of Fame.
“The one thing [Johnson] is so good at is he’s great on the outside, whether it’s going to be running to the outside, catching the ball to the outside,” Clayton said. “If he can develop more of an inside game, that will make him better.
“But I mean, he looks like a beast out there, and you watched how he came on and, honestly, I think this is kind of the wave of the future is that it’s hard to anticipate who the good backs are going to be.”
Clayton cited second-round picks Matt Forte and Le’Veon Bell as players who slid in the draft but turned out to be excellent running backs.
“I think David Johnson fits into that group,” he said. “Hall of Fame, a little bit early yet. Got to wait five years after he retires to think about that, but I think he’s going to be a very good back in a very good running division.”
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