Arizona Cardinals’ running back David Johnson should be excited to run in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
In a recent interview with Darren Urban on ArizonaCardinals.com, star running back David Johnson spoke about his familiarity with the shotgun offense and future fit in head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. He noted that he was excited to play, particularly in the shotgun offense, in the interview he said;
"I actually love that, I did that in college. That’s all we did in college is the gun, a read-option-type thing. I think it really opens up more space for me and makes me able to read the defense a little bit more."
Although running backs tend to find more success running in a traditional drop-back offense, this shouldn’t come as a surprise for Johnson, Kingsbury, or Cardinals fans. After all, while at Northern Iowa Johnson ran for 4,682 yards and 49 touchdowns primarily in the shotgun offense. Although it’s been a while since he’s done so.
Per Warren Sharp, the 2018 Cardinals ran just 54% of their plays in the shotgun, good for last in the NFL, and they also rushed the ball for 18% of their plays — 23rd in the NFL, according to Sharp. Those low rates and role as a workhorse power/inside zone back coincide with his sub-1,000-yard, 3.6 yards per carry 2018 season.
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However, despite his lack of success in 2018 corresponding with the lack of shotgun running, Johnson hasn’t seen a significant role in the NFL out of the gun. For example, in his All-Pro 2016 season, the Cardinals used Johnson in the gun just 10% of his runs, good for last in the NFL, per Sharp.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t be successful in the shotgun in the NFL. Not only does he have familiarity with it, but he also has a skill set that could thrive in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid offense which uses the outside zone as it’s the primary source of running.
Johnson has thrived in a zone running scheme in the past; he possesses the rare blend of size, elusiveness, and vision to execute a scheme that relies on quick-thinking and actions by its backs, which made him a fit in Bruce Arians’ primarily outside runner scheme.
Johnson also a reputation as a dynamic receiver out of the backfield or out wide. In 2,000 scrimmage-yard 2016 season, he had 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns. Per Pro Football Focus, he ran 35% of his routes as a wide receiver during that season. But in 2018, just 11.5% were out wide. In turn, his production took a dip.
The Air Raid offense should bring him back to prominence as a receiver. Kingsbury’s 2018 running back by committee at Texas Tech tallied 62 receptions for 421 yards in just 12 games. Kingsbury’s head coach while at Tech and Air Raid scheme inventor Mike Leach racked up 145 receptions for 1,044 yards, but he had the advantage of using James Williams as his feature back — a pass-catching extraordinaire with a game very similar to the Patriots’ James White.
Using history as an indicator, there’s good reason why David Johnson should be excited, but it’s not just because of his prior success as a shotgun back. His familiarity with an outside zone scheme and skills as a receiver will also help the Cardinals’ offense flourish, no matter the quarterback.
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