Why Arizona Running Back David Johnson is better than Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott
March 29, 2017
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Before explaining my reasoning behind why I believe David Johnson (Cardinals) is better than Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys), here are some supporting statistics of the two star running backs. Elliott ran the ball 322 times for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns in his sensational 2016 rookie season. Johnson, on the other hand, ran the ball 293 times for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016. Elliott outran Johnson by a count of 392 yards while averaging nearly a yard more per carry. Both running backs are easily labeled all-stars but Elliott does have the slight edge in statistics, so it’s easy to assume Elliott is better, right?
Well, there’s another aspect of the game for analysts to consider. This happens to be a running back’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and get down field or to even line up as a wide receiver. This is very important because as each season passes in the NFL, quarterbacks have been relying more and more on their tail backs to run short out routes as a back plan. Quarterbacks utilize this offensive strategy to create a mismatch for the running back, as a linebacker often has to cover him. Both Dallas and Arizona use this strategy and do not replace their star backs in passing situations. The stats in this situation, however, heavily favor Johnson. Elliott has caught 32 passes for 363 yards and a single touchdown while Johnson has caught a whopping 80 passes for 879 yards and 4 touchdowns. That places him at 38th overall for total receiving yards last season… amongst wide receivers!
What’s even more impressive about Johnson is the way he’s gaining thesee receiving yards. Most backs make all of their receiving yards off of screens plays or dump off passes as explained above, but David Johnson has been placed repeatedly as an outside receiver and slot receiver because of his impressive skill set. He has displayed on multiple occasions his ability to be much more versatile than Elliott, causing him to be a more reliable and valuable member of the Cardinals than Elliott is to the Cowboys.
In addition, let us compare the offensive lines and quarterbacks that both of these running backs have played with. DJ’s quarterback is Carson Palmer, who was a superb athlete in 2015 but has regressed significantly in 2016 as he battles a multitude of past and present injuries as well as age. Johnson’s offensive line also isn’t a very reliable or even helpful aspect to the Cardinals. Arizona lost all-pro guard Evan Mathis for the season after merely four games and their star left tackle Jared Veldheer got hurt after eight games. Center A.Q. Shipley is one of the worst statistically acclaimed starting centers in football, and the Cards had to move their right tackle D.J. Humphries to left tackle. On the other hand, the Cowboys have a left tackle named Tyron Smith who has been one of the most dominant linemen for the past five years. The right side of the Cardinals line consisted of John Wetzel and Ulrick John, a pair of undrafted free agents who started for the first time in their lives this season for Arizona. Not exactly the combination of veteran Doug Free and all-pro Zach Martin both of whom reside with the Cowboys.
I believe these are the two best runners in the NFL and don’t want to take away anything from either. But based off the information and statistics that have been analyzed, I firmly believe that David Johnson is the better player.