Humble Arizona RB on top of list of future merchandise sales

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) When young people are buying football jerseys, they often pick one with the name of a flamboyant, sometimes brash player.

Usually, though, they look to wear the name of someone who is tearing through the NFL on the field.

And maybe a mix of talent, class and integrity sells because David Johnson tops the National Football Players Association list of ''Rising 50'' players poised to break out as top sellers of merchandise this coming season.

Johnson's on-field achievements are already impressive as he prepares for his third NFL season. As devastating a receiver as he is a runner, Johnson led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,118 yards - 1,239 rushing and 879 receiving.

He set a record of topping 100 yards from scrimmage in 15 consecutive games to start a season, a streak that ended only because he was injured in the season finale. The only player to do it in at least 15 straight games anytime is Barry Sanders.

And he led the NFL with a franchise-record 20 touchdowns.

Johnson was first-team All-Pro in its new ''flex'' position and second team as a running back.

He is a triplet (he has two sisters) and grew up in a home minus a father and sometimes a mother, leaving his older sister to raise them.

He wasn't pursued by the big schools, so wound up at Norther Iowa.

There was no free gear waiting.

''I had to go to outlet Nike stores to get clothes and stuff,'' he said, ''struggling college student couldn't get the high-end Nikes.''

Big schools like Ohio State and Michigan get big money from athletic shoe and apparel companies to wear their brand. Not so at Northern Iowa.

''We had a Nike discount, we didn't have a Nike deal,'' Johnson said, ''about 20 percent off and we got half of what the big colleges got.''

He fell all the way to the third round and was selected by Arizona two seasons ago, and oh how times have changed. Johnson is an endorser of Nike and shouldn't have to worry about paying for athletic gear and clothes again.

He won't draw customers with brashness or flamboyances.

Off the field, Johnson is about as uncontroversial as a player can be. Always smiling (even when he's carrying a football) but quiet, almost shy.

''He's just a great human being,'' Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. ''You would hope guys like that would be role models and companies would want to use their likeness.''

Johnson embraces being a role model, once writing a Players Tribune article on bullying, sharing his experiences as a kid.

''I feel that's a probably one of the most important things with our platform can do is impact kids,'' Johnson said. ''Show the good, the positive of football, and just be a big character guy where parents can really talk to kids and have them hopefully model what I'm doing.''

He said he wakes up every morning ''feeling blessed every day, just to have this job following my dream, How many players playing football actually make it to the NFL, especially coming from where I did?''

Johnson became a father this offseason.

''Fatherhood's a blast,'' Johnson said. ''My son, he's such a great son. He's always laughing, always smiling, always good to be around. He rarely cries, so I'm loving it.''

You can find photos of David Johnson Jr. throughout his father's twitter account.

''I didn't have a father growing up, so I just want to do as much as I can, be there as much as I can for him,'' Johnson said. ''I want to take as many pictures as I can with him, try to have as many memories as I can.''

And Johnson's son probably will never have to worry about paying for Nike gear.


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