In Week 1 of the 2015 season, the Arizona Cardinals gave touches to three different running backs. Andre Ellington led the group with 13 touches, followed by Chris Johnson with 10. Rookie David Johnson recorded just one touch, but he took that touch 55 yards to the house.
It would be 11 more weeks until David Johnson led Cardinal backs in touches. During the 10 games in between, Johnson totaled 53 touches for 325 yards and another six scores. He also proved himself a quality return man, taking 21 kicks back for an average of 26.5 yards a pop.
Once Johnson became the Cardinals' featured back (thanks to injuries to both Ellington and Chris Johnson), he proved more than up to the task. In five games, he scored five touchdowns, averaged 4.9 yards on his 90 carries and added 17 catches for 216 more yards. He totaled at least 120 yards through the air and on the ground in four of the five games.
Back in April, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expressed some early optimism about Johnson's future. "David's earned the right now to be the bell cow," Arians said at the time, per ESPN.com. "Everybody's got to take it from him."
Now that training camp has started, the Cardinals have even higher hopes -- and even higher praise -- for the second-year back. "I don't even want to talk about what I've seen from David Johnson, because I don't want to jinx it," general manager Steve Keim said, per ESPN.com. "It's scary."
Johnson has apparently had such a good camp that Keim is not afraid to compare him to a certain Hall of Fame back. "A lot of people have compared him to Marshall Faulk, and our coaches had Marshall Faulk in Indy," Keim said. "I think he's very similar in some ways athletically and in terms of ball-catching skills to Marshall."
Faulk, of course, was one of the best running backs of his time and is widely considered one of the best pass-catching backs in NFL history. He caught 80-plus passes in every season from 1998 through 2002, and ended his career with 767 catches, the most ever by a player whose primary position was running back.
Johnson caught 36 balls in his first year, which would have been a career-low for Faulk. That total obviously came in fewer snaps than Faulk typically played, though. Once he became the starter, Johnson averaged 3.8 catches per game, about a half-catch south of Faulk's career average of 4.3 per game.
Still, Keim felt comfortable saying this about Johnson:
"He's got rare and unusual skills I've never seen in a back, where he's got an erect running style, yet at the same time he has tremendous lower flexibility and lateral quickness. So that's a weird combination, because usually those taller, upright guys are kind of straight-legged and stiff. This guy's got an unusual knack of being able to pick and slide and do some things laterally. And then his receiving and ball skills are second to none. I mean, probably the best receiving back I've seen."
The. Best. Receiving. Back. Ever. Good lord is that some high praise. I guess he's not all that afraid of jinxing Johnson after all.