- With David Johnson out for the foreseeable future, the Cardinals will likely turn to a running back committee to patch up the gaping hole.
The headache the Cardinals face in trying to replace RB David Johnson is that they, ya know, can’t—not fully, at least. Johnson is among the best, most versatile backs in the NFL, and he serves as an absolute centerpiece in the Arizona offense.
Losing him for two to three months as he undergoes wrist surgery very much puts the Cardinals’ 2017 chances in jeopardy. Even the most optimistic timeline there would leave the already 0–1 Cardinals without their top offensive weapon for eight games.
Making matters worse, starting left tackle D.J. Humphries also left Sunday’s loss to the Lions early and is expected to miss at least another game. Both before and especially after Humphries sprained his MCL, quarterback Carson Palmer scuffled against Detroit's defense. Humphries’ replacement, John Wentzel, made for a weak point along the line.
Arizona would have leaned on Johnson in Humphries’s absence, even more so than normal. Now? Well …
The immediate replacement options at running back are Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington. Williams rushed for 10 yards on five carries Sunday, while Ellington caught a pair of passes for 35 yards. As the numbers indicate, Ellington offers more of receiving threat out of the backfield-Arizona toyed with moving him permanently to a slot receiver role offseason.
An interesting option emerged in light of Johnson’s injury news Monday, though: D.J. Foster, whom the Cardinals claimed off New England’s practice squad. He saw very limited action for the Patriots as a rookie last year, but dip back to his college tape at Arizona State and you’ll find an intriguing three-down playmaker. While replacing his 80 catches-and the threat he brings as a receiver-maybe even more difficult for Arizona.
Veteran Chris Johnson is reportedly headed back to Arizona to help on the ground, too. He spent the past two seasons with the Cardinals, rushing for 814 yards in 2015, but was a late cut prior to the regular season.
No matter who emerges as the primary option, it likely will have to be a committee approach to fill David Johnson’s shoes. Each of the available bodies offers bits and pieces of what the spectacular third-year back can but none is near as complete a player at this point in his career.
And it may not matter what the Cardinals get from their running backs if the O-line and Palmer cannot bounce back from Sunday’s showing. Already a worry for the Cardinals headed into the season, the 37-year-old Palmer now will carry much of the burden for the offense until Johnson can return. He'll have to do so without one of his most reliable weapons.
What little good news there is for the Cardinals comes from their schedule. This week they draw the Colts (albeit on the road), a team that looked like it deserved to be relegated in Week 1.
Indianapolis does not figure to test Arizona's defense the way Matthew Stafford did last Sunday. So, Palmer and the David Johnson-less backfield may not need to light it up to steal a win.
Still, this is going to be an exercise in survival. Arizona's chances of firing to the top of the NFC West early have been shattered. The goal now is to stay in the hunt until Johnson gets back.