The Cardinals are eyeing 30 touches per game for David Johnson in 2017. NFL history suggests that’s a risky target.
When it sounds almost too good to be true, it usually is. Meaning, of course, it’s not. Unless it is.
Take, for instance, Bruce Arians’ pronouncement that he wants David Johnson to get 30 touches a game for the Cardinals this coming season. On the surface, this sounds like a completely wonderful idea. Johnson is unlike any other running back in the NFL and he seems perfectly built for the extra workload.
He’s big, but he’s deceptively fast. He’s a pounder between the tackles, yet can bounce off a linebacker, spin out of the arms of a safety and take it to the house. He catches passes out of the backfield better than anyone and can also line up outside as an actual wide receiver and put cornerbacks to shame.
And don’t forget, he used to return kickoffs, too – until the Cardinals quickly wised up and realized how valuable he was strictly on offense.
He’s also just 25 years old. Surely, 30 touches a game wouldn’t make the Cardinals guilty of overusing their young superstar.
“He’s still too young to overuse,” Arians said recently, adding, “I want to have 30 touches out of him, if possible, because that’s going to be a lot of offense. When he has his hands on the ball, either as a wide receiver, coming out of the backfield, in the slot, and running, that’s a hell of a lot of potential offense for us.”
Be careful what you wish for, Bruce, because history hasn’t been terribly kind to NFL running backs who run themselves into the ground.
Some folks in the business call it “The Curse of 370,” which acts like a virtual brick wall for a back. The numbers don’t lie: Typically, when a running back carries the ball 370 or more times in a season, his next year turns to mush. He either gets injured or he just isn’t the same.
The examples are almost literally too long to mention, so here’s just a few:
- In 2006, Larry Johnson of the Chiefs rushed 416 times – which remains the NFL record – and turned it into 1,789 yards and 17 touchdowns. In 2007, he played in only eight games and finished with 559 yards on 158 carries with three touchdowns.
- In 1998, Jamal Anderson of the Falcons had 410 carries – second-most in history – and ran for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns. In 1999, he lasted just two games and ran for 59 yards on 19 carries with no touchdowns.
- In 2014, DeMarco Murray of the Cowboys carried the ball 392 times for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2015 with the Eagles, he finished with 702 yards on 193 carries with six touchdowns.
Noticeable drop-offs after reaching the 370-carry threshold have happened to dozens and dozens of running backs, from Terrell Davis to Michael Turner, from Barry Foster to Marcus Allen, from Gerald Riggs to Eddie George.
It happened only once to Eric Dickerson, but according to the cocktail napkin in my pocket, er, countless hours of comprehensive data research, he seemed to be a bit of an anomaly on this subject. Yeah, Dickerson might have been a robot.
Ditto with guys such as Walter Payton, Edgerrin James and Emmitt Smith.
But we don’t exactly know for sure just what David Johnson is yet, do we? We do know he suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during the last game of the regular season. We also know he led the league with 2,118 yards from scrimmage, rushing 293 times for 1,239 yards and catching 80 passes for 879 more. He also scored an NFL-high 20 touchdowns.
But Arians would like more out of Johnson. Predictably, the happy-go-lucky Johnson has said he’d be fine with that. The problem, however, is that it could end up leaving him a broken-down mess a year from now just when Johnson will be in position to command a massive new contract from the Cardinals.
Is it worth the risk for either of them? David Johnson is, after all, the new face of the franchise, its most lethal weapon. Is an extra five to 10 touches a game really that necessary, or does it behoove the Cardinals to squeeze the most they can out of their best player?
Handing Johnson the rock 20 times a game and throwing it to him an additional eight to 10 times seems feasible, if not altogether fair. But the Cardinals need to be cautious with those numbers, for the slightest change could seriously impact the future.
Simple math on the old cocktail napkin proves that 25 carries a game over the course of a 16-game regular season equates to 400 total carries, not including five preseason games or the playoffs. That, friends, is a very real and dangerous red-zone area in the grand scheme of the infamous “Curse of 370.”
And by “red zone,” we’re not talking about the area of the football field between the 20-yard line and the goal line. We’re talking red zone as in the temperature gauge in your car – like when the radiator is about to explode and you’re left stranded.
Who wants to see that happen?
Shot Clock: azcentral sports’ Kent Somers and Bob McManaman discuss the Cardinals’ potential use (or overuse?) of running back David Johnson.
Reach McManaman at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Wednesday night between 7-9 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.