League MVP? Best player in the NFL? David Johnson continues making his case

Dec 4, 2016, 8:18 PM | Updated: Dec 5, 2016, 3:45 pm
Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs as Washington Redskins inside linebacker Wil...

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) runs as Washington Redskins inside linebacker Will Compton (51) pursues during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — At some point, the superlatives used to describe David Johnson seem to be a bit much.

So now, the Cardinals are just simply making statements about the second-year running back.

Larry Fitzgerald said Johnson is “the National Football League’s MVP,” whereas Carson Palmer thinks Johnson is “the best player in the NFL, point blank.”

“I think he’s proven that,” the quarterback added. “I think our wins and losses have affected some of the hype I think he has not gotten and other guys have gotten because they’re on winning teams — but best player in the NFL.”

Odds are, Johnson will not be this season’s league MVP, not unless the Cardinals run the table and reach the postseason. As for whether or not he is the game’s best player, that is certainly a matter for debate.

What cannot be argued, however, is Johnson’s importance to the Cardinals. In Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Washington Redskins, he ran for 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries while adding another 91 yards and a score on nine catches.

Johnson’s 175 total yards accounted for nearly half of the Cardinals’ offensive output, and in the process of it all he reached 1,005 rushing yards on the season and scored his 28th touchdown in 28 NFL games.

“I’ve been fortunate to be around a couple of good backs,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James were pretty good when they were young and he (Johnson) reminds me of those two guys.”

The 24-year-old Johnson appreciates his coach’s comparison.

“It means a lot,” he said. “That’s a great achievement, just to hear that, just to be talked about amongst those great players — it means a lot just because of everything I’ve been to.

“All the hard work is finally paying off.”

Expectations were high for Johnson entering the season, especially with how he finished the 2015 campaign. However, few could have predicted the kind of year he would put together, a record-setting effort that has helped lead to the team’s offense being built around him.

And why shouldn’t it be?

Johnson now has 64 receptions on the season, with his 704 receiving yards ranking second on the Cardinals and first among running backs in the league. His rushing yardage total ranks third in the NFL, and his 15 touchdowns are tops in all of football.

With a strong final four games, Johnson could join Roger Craig and Faulk as the only players in NFL history to run for at least 1,000 yards and earn 1,000 yards receiving in the same season, and the young back believes he can do it.

“I believe so as long as I continue to get better, continue to learn and continue to do what I can,” he said.

They haven’t dubbed him the “Humble Rumble” for nothing.

When the Cardinals need a big play, they often look for Fitzgerald. Now, they seek out Johnson, too, both in the running game and in the passing attack.

“He was good out of the backfield,” Redskins safety Su’a Cravens said. “They lined him up empty. They threw a couple at me. I covered him pretty well on the two they threw at me, he only caught one.

“But then they started leaving him in the backfield and when you have a guy like Larry on the outside and 31 (Johnson) in the backfield, it’s pick your poison.”

That’s the idea, anyway.

“Obviously I love running the ball; that’s why I got drafted, is to run the ball first,” Johnson said. “But anytime I have the ball in my hands, I love doing that. Coming out, splitting out as a receiver is great, and just being utilized different ways.”

Left tackle D.J. Humphries takes pride in Johnson reaching the 1,000-yard mark, as the entire offensive line does. He said it’s a great feeling, helping to pave the way for this kind of season.

“There ain’t much that David can’t do — he works so hard, and he’s such a good person,” Humphries said. “He’s such a good, humble dude like when you see him ball, it’s like, I get so emotional, I get so happy for him because I know how hard he works and how much he puts into it, and it’s paying off for him.”

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell referred to Johnson, along with Fitzgerald, as “living legends,” and when asked if he meant that about Johnson, he doubled down.

“In my opinion, he’s going to be,” he said. “I see him work. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to be a legend.”

Two years into Johnson’s career may be a bit premature to see Johnson compared to some of the game’s greats.

But he’s trending that direction, and the season he is in the midst of could be one for the ages.

“Dave is obviously as dynamic as the running back position gets in the passing game,” Palmer said. “I remember playing with LaDainian Tomlinson in the Pro Bowl one time, back when LaDainian was the MVP of the league, and just hand the ball off and just watching him play.

“You get that same feeling playing this position and handing the ball off to Dave and watching him go.”

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