TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — If not for the Detroit Lions, David Johnson would not be the dynamic, game-changing running back he is for the Arizona Cardinals. He'd be plying his considerable skills elsewhere.
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — If not for the Detroit Lions, David Johnson would not be the dynamic, game-changing running back he is for the Arizona Cardinals.
He'd be plying his considerable skills elsewhere.
Now Johnson, entering just his third NFL season, will be facing the Lions when Arizona opens its season in Detroit on Sunday.
On the cover of the Sports Illustrated NFL preview edition, Johnson is no longer an under-the-radar rising star.
"I think he's the best player in the National Football League," teammate Larry Fitzgerald said. "I think for the next 17 weeks, and hopefully moving forward, everybody that we play will have to feel his wrath."
Johnson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns last season, considers himself the best running back in the game.
"I feel like you wouldn't be able to compete at a high level if you didn't think you were the best," he said.
And only a decision by the Lions in the 2015 draft cleared the way for Johnson to come to the Cardinals.
In the second round, Arizona had the 55th pick overall and was preparing to select running back Ameer Abdullah.
As chronicled in last year's "All or Nothing" documentary on Arizona's 2015 season, the Cardinals even were on the phone with Abdullah. But, just ahead of them at pick No. 54, the Lions grabbed Abdullah.
"You're kidding me. You've got to be kidding me," a distraught general manager Steve Keim is shown saying.
The Cardinals had no idea how fortunate they were.
They made a trade down with their second-round pick and grabbed outside linebacker Markus Golden at pick No. 58. Golden led the Cardinals in sacks with 12 ½ last season.
Then in the third round, still needing a running back, they chose Johnson out of FCS school Northern Iowa with the 86th selection overall.
Johnson said he didn't know anything about how all that transpired until he watched "All or Nothing."
"It's definitely crazy how things work out," he said. "Me and Markus talk about that all the time, how different our lives would have been if Ameer had come here."
In the 2015 season-opener against New Orleans, the first time he touched the ball, he caught a pass from Carson Palmer and went 55 yards for a touchdown. The next week at Chicago, he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in franchise history and tied for second-longest ever in the NFL. He added a 13-yard TD catch against the Bears.
"Throughout camp that year, before I got injured (a hamstring), I felt like I was able to put my talents out there and felt like I was able to play and be a good player in the league," he said. "But once I did have that kick return and also the Saints game a few plays I did get in, I felt like I definitely was in the right spot."
Coach Bruce Arians says repeatedly that Johnson reminds him of Marshall Faulk. And why not.
Last season, Johnson became the first player in NFL history to top 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the first 15 games of the season. He probably would have made it 16 had he not injured his knee in the season finale in Los Angeles.
His 15 games of 100 yards from scrimmage in a season tied the NFL record held by Barry Sanders.
Johnson's goal this season is 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving, something accomplished only by Faulk and Roger Craig.
He came close last season with 1,239 yards rushing and 879 yards receiving and believes he would have done it if not for that last-game injury or some messed up route running during the year.
Johnson has scored 33 touchdowns in 32 games played. No wonder he is just about everybody's No. 1 fantasy pick.
The Cardinals virtually kept Johnson in bubble wrap this preseason. He played only 11 snaps, carrying the ball six times for 19 yards and catching one pass for nine yards.
He is raring to go.
"I don't think I have any rust," Johnson said. "I'm very anxious, man. I've been scratching my nails. I'm so excited to come out and play and I've been very antsy, counting the days on the calendar, counting the minutes when we finally get to actually play in a game that was very important."
And, by the way, Abdullah will be carrying the ball for the Lions.