There were several significant injuries around the NFL in Week 1, but none as staggering as the dislocated wrist suffered by Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson in Sunday’s 35-23 loss to the Detroit Lions.
Johnson will have surgery this week and is expected to miss the next two-to-three months. It’s a potentially crippling blow for the Cardinals offence.
Johnson led the NFL with 2,118 total yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016. He recorded at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of Arizona’s first 15 games, matching the NFL record for the longest single-season streak, set by Barry Sanders in 1997.
Johnson’s elusiveness was one of his biggest assets. According to Pro Football Focus, he led the NFL in missed tackles forced.
Johnson’s versatility as both a runner and receiver allowed the Cardinals to build their offence around him. He had 80 receptions for 879 yards and four touchdowns last season.
To put that in perspective, Johnson finished with more receptions than DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders and Brandin Cooks. His 120 targets in the passing game were 26 more than Le’Veon Bell for the most among running backs. Johnson averaged just over 23 touches per game a year ago. Head coach Bruce Arians wanted that number to be even higher in 2017.
The lack of quality depth at the running back position adds to the significance of the Johnson injury. Kerwynn Williams is in line to assume the No. 1 role. He had 18 carries all of last season. Veteran Andre Ellington is in the mix and D.J. Foster was signed from the New England Patriots practice squad. On Tuesday, the Cardinals decided to bring back veteran Chris Johnson, who was among their final roster cuts at the end of the preseason. He turns 32 later this month and was limited to 95 rushing yards in four games with Arizona last year before he was placed on Injured Reserve with a groin injury.
Even if Williams is listed atop the depth chart, there is a good chance the Cardinals will take a committee approach with their running backs when they visit the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Arizona might be able to beat the Colts without Johnson, but there are obvious concerns about the overall potential of their offence without its best player moving forward this season.
Quarterback Carson Palmer will turn 38 in December. He was pressured on 18 of his 50 drop backs and threw three interceptions in the loss to the Lions. Without Johnson in the Cardinals backfield, opposing defences will focus on slowing down Arizona’s passing game and send even more pressure at Palmer in the pocket.
Injuries are a reality for all 32 NFL teams. Some hurt a lot more than others.
No team took a harder hit in Week 1 than the Cardinals.