Over the last few weeks, the Arizona Cardinals have seen a shift in their backfield that has seen former Pro Bowl running back David Johnson shift out of favor with the workload. That led to the Cardinals benching Johnson for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which has brought up questions concerning his long-term future in Arizona. All that may just be the writing on the wall for him that could see some changes ahead after this season.
David Johnson’s injury-plagued career
Through his first four-plus years in the league, Johnson has shown to be one of the most talented all-around running backs in the game. However, injuries have slowed his roll on that front over the last couple of seasons.
Following his breakout 2016 campaign, where he had more than 2,000 total scrimmage yards, Johnson suffered a broken wrist in the season opener of the 2017 season that kept him out for the rest of the year. He was able to play in every game last season, putting up nearly 1,000 rushing yards, but his production was significantly lower than was expected.
The hope entering this year was that Johnson could get back to producing at an elite level, but the injury bug has struck him again, which has limited his impact on the field. All that has led the team to utilize Kenyan Drake as the primary workhorse in the backfield moving forward.
Kliff Kingsbury favoring Kenyan Drake
Questions about Johnson’s future with the franchise began to show some red flags after the team made the move to acquire Drake before the trade deadline.
Since then, the Alabama product has handled the bulk of the workload, which saw him take over as the main factor in the backfield this past week against the Buccaneers, while Johnson received just five carries totaling two yards. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has further clouded the situation for the former Pro Bowl by stating the decision to use Drake was made to keep him hot, according to Josh Weinfuss of ESPN.
“We just felt like with Drake, needed to get something going and kept him rolling,” Kingsbury said. “The last couple weeks, practice, games [he] has brought a little pop to the run game, the pass game, and we felt like he was the guy to try and close the game out with.”
Kingsbury’s reasoning isn’t completely off-scale given that Drake was coming off a 100-yard rushing performance in his first game with the team, but Johnson has proven he’s a game-changing factor when healthy. Either there is something more there that is being kept under wraps or the Cardinals are subtly moving in another direction away from the 27-year-old.
David Johnson’s future up in the air
The writing has been on the wall for Johnson as his role in the offense has continued to dwindle. It also doesn’t help his case that he’s dealing with nagging injuries have prevented him from making a significant impact on the game.
His production has decreased, but the Cardinals have also not provided the best run blocking ahead of him over the last couple of seasons. Things may have shifted over to the bigger picture, with the team having their potential franchise centerpiece under center in promising rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.
Johnson has shown that he has struggled to stay healthy while his production isn’t matching the three-year, $39 million deal that runs through the 2021 season. There is no question that he has proven to be a talented player, but his nagging injuries combined with Drake performing well could shift to a sooner departure from the team than he expected.