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A Charmed Year For David Johnson

Cardinals running back emerged as a star in his second season


Cardinals running back David Johnson had a knack for evading defenders in space.

For those who believe in magic, David Johnson's 2016 looked suspiciously like the result of a genie granting three wishes.

The Cardinals running back got married, learned he was going to be a father and then had arguably the best season in franchise history.

The jig was seemingly up on New Year's Day, when Johnson's knee twisted under several hundred pounds of body mass, forcing him to leave the playing field at the L.A. Coliseum via motorized cart.

But there is no genie, because Johnson's charmed NFL career keeps moving forward. A potentially disastrous injury was avoided, and unsurprisingly, there was even a silver lining.

Johnson's child is scheduled to be born the same week as the Pro Bowl festivities, which was turning into an agonizing decision. Not anymore. He will stay home to rehabilitate the knee, the choice made for him.

"I was always going to be there for the birth," Johnson said, "but now I'm going to for sure be there for the baby."

There were a lot of things that went wrong for the Cardinals in 2016, but along with those setbacks came the emergence of one of the NFL's best individual players. Johnson entered the season with high expectations after some head-turning performances down the stretch of his rookie year, but he surpassed even the loftiest of prognostications.

Johnson finished with 1,239 rushing yards, 879 receiving yards and led the NFL in touchdowns (20) and yards from scrimmage (2,118). He became the first running back in NFL history to surpass 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his team's first 15 games, and only the injury could keep him from doing so in all 16 contests.

The Cardinals' offense was beautifully balanced in 2015, as Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Chris Johnson and Michael Floyd joined Johnson as alternating stars. When the offense found its groove in 2016, it's because Johnson took on the lion's share of the load.

"It's rare what he did," coach Bruce Arians said. "It was a shame because you knew he was going to get hit 100 easily, but you knew that an injury was probably going to stop the streak."

Johnson, an All-Pro selection, was so good he lamented early-season mistakes that kept him from reaching both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving – rarified air that only Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig have done previously.

"Mental errors killed me in some of the games," Johnson said. "I probably would've had 1,000 yards receiving if not for some of those routes early on in the season that I messed up on."

Johnson is learning the intricacies of stardom, as companies are suddenly clamoring to use him as a pitchman. He has already taken a subtle lesson from Fitzgerald, who dresses to the nines after each game, knowing full well thousands of people are tuning in to his interviews.

Don't be surprised if Johnson has a wardrobe upgrade in 2017.

"He's taught me that stuff, that little stuff," Johnson said.

Johnson is dealing with sweeping changes off the field, but as he navigates that, he has no plans to overhaul his football preparation. He's maniacal in the weight room and won't be slowing down there. He's learned how to eat right and take care of his body with massages, and those will continue.

One thing he may add is yoga to increase his flexibility. But it will be mostly status quo, and after a season like 2016, who would argue?

"I'm going to continue to do everything that's gotten me here," Johnson said.

Images of the Cardinals' top pass-catchers in 2016

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