How To Replace David Johnson on Fantasy Football Rosters (Hint: You Can't)

The Cardinals' running back—and No. 1 pick in many fantasy football drafts—is out for at least a few weeks with a sprained wrist. To whom do his owners turn now?
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The injury demon didn’t wait to get started this season. Allen Robinson suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter of the Jaguars 29–7 win over the Texans, and Danny Woodhead left after the Ravens’ first drive with what appeared to be a significant hamstring injury. The biggest injury of the day, however, didn’t strike until later in the afternoon.

David Johnson left the Cardinals eventual 35–23 loss to the Lions with a sprained wrist. He did briefly return to the game after suffering the injury, but it ultimately forced him from the action. The X-rays taken on Sunday were negative, but Johnson is scheduled for an MRI on Monday. The early reports suggest that even if the Cardinals get good news on Monday, Johnson will still miss some time. How much cannot be determined until the team gets the MRI results.

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Both the Cardinals and fantasy owners won’t be able to truly replace Johnson. Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington are the next two backs on the Cardinals depth chart. Williams ran the ball five times for 10 yards and caught one pass for two yards, while Ellington caught two of his three targets for 35 yards. Both should be on your waiver-wire radar, but neither will be a no-doubt fantasy starter while Johnson is on the shelf.

The biggest impact in Arizona will likely be in the passing game. With Johnson out, more responsibility will fall to Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown. From a fantasy perspective, Brown stands to gain the most of those three. Fitzgerald’s target share is realistically already as large as it can be, but there’s still room for Brown’s role to grow. Playmakers are playmakers no matter where they are on the field, and the Cardinals will be without their biggest one for some time. Brown racked up nine targets, the same amount as Johnson, on Sunday, and he should be looking at seven or more per game so long as Johnson is injured.

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Johnson owners looking for reinforcements in the backfield may want to prioritize players other than Johnson’s replacements. Tarik Cohen of the Bears and Buck Allen of the Ravens will both be popular players on the waiver wire and could be in better spots than either Cardinals back. Cohen exploded for 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 touches in his NFL debut on Sunday, and is going to have a significant role alongside Jordan Howard in Chicago. Allen, meanwhile, steps into the role in Baltimore made available because of Woodhead’s injury. He had 71 yards on 21 carries in the Ravens 20–0 win over the Bengals, but his largest contributions will likely come as a receiver. He had just one target on Sunday, but no team threw to their running backs more than the Ravens last season, and Woodhead had three receptions for 33 yards before leaving the game. Allen is going to be the team’s primary pass-catching back while Woodhead is out, and that has proven to be a lucrative role.

For the time being, fantasy owners and the Cardinals alike will hope for the best on Johnson, but it’s also time to start planning for the worst. If you can afford to make a couple of additions in your backfield this week, do so. You’ll need as many options as you can amass with Johnson on the sidelines.