The Arizona Cardinals’ offense ranked ninth in the league last year with 5,868 yards, and ranked sixth in touchdowns scored with 48 (28 passing and 20 rushing). David Johnson accounted for 2,118 of those yards and 20 of those touchdowns. In other words, he was well over a third of their total offense. Losing him would be a tough circumstance for the Cardinals to overcome since he’s irreplaceable. Losing the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football is equally difficult. Here’s what to expect should that scenario unfold in 2017.
John Brown, WR – Johnson’s 120 targets accounted 21.3 percent of the Cardinals’ market share. Only Larry Fitzgerald—who is also a buy candidate and gets the biggest touchdown boost—saw more at 26.6 percent. Meanwhile, Brown battled through concussions and sickle cell last year and managed only 39 catches for 517 yards and two touchdowns while playing only 51.7 percent of snaps. It’s easy to forget, however, that in 2015—when health wasn’t an issue—Brown caught 64 percent of his targets for 65 catches, 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. If Johnson were to be lost for the season, Brown and Fitzgerald are top trade targets.
J.J. Nelson, WR – It’ll be interesting to see how the WR3 role shakes out in 2017 for the Cardinals. Nelson is currently that guy after he took advantage of extra playing time last year. He finished the season strong with 295 yards and four touchdowns in his last five games. He has elite speed and only needs opportunity at this point to be an every week contributor both in real and fake football.
Carson Palmer, QB – There is room to argue that Palmer’s production could tank without reliable pass-catching back. But the good news is that the Cardinals re-signed Chris Johnson to one-year deal, and Andre Ellington is still on the roster teasing those of us that remain enamored with his talents. Both players are plenty capable of filling in as decent-to-great receivers out of the backfield. And it’s not like the Cardinals are missing Michael Floyd. Palmer also has Nelson—who showed off his corner-burning speed and finished strong last season—and Jaron Brown, another speedster who also has decent size. Palmer will be fine and is setting up as a great late-round draft option.
None. The only player this negatively affects is Palmer, who would see different defensive schemes in the absence of Johnson. But this offense will recover and there will be plenty of fantasy points to go around.
Chris Johnson, RB – The other Johnson will be the hottest waiver pickup in the league should this unfortunate hypothetical play out. He was a solid yardage producer until getting hurt in Week 12 of 2015. The only concern is he doesn’t have much for touchdown upside except the occasional homerun.
Andre Ellington, RB – There was a brief moment in time this offseason when Ellington was moved to wide receiver, but that was short-lived. The Cardinals’ pass-catchers are back healthy and they added Chad Williams as a third-rounder in the draft. Ellington is only 28 and boasts top-notch receiving abilities. He’s just not built for a lead role. That said, he could end up as the starter by outplaying the other Johnson.
Jaron Brown, WR – Brown is going to have to fight to get his starting role back as the third wide receiver, but he might get added opportunities should the Cardinals switch to more four-wide sets in the absence of their star running back. It’s worth noting that only two other teams ran more plays with four wide receivers last year than the Cardinals.
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