The job of an NFL scout is among the hardest in sports. He pours over hours of college film, watches public and private workouts, talks to coaches, teammates, strength and conditioning coordinators, etc. Sometimes talent is easy to spot, other times it's not as simple. If a player went to a big time school and is surrounded by other great players, a scout has to consider those factors during his evaluation. If a player went to a small school, had zero talent around him, and played against nobody, that too has to weigh heavy on the mind of a scout.
The Cardinals have had great success under general manager Steve Keim at talent evaluation, especially in the mid- to later
rounds of the draft and, incredibly, at the small-school level. From former Cardinal standouts Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (he was a first round pick), Tim Hightower, Reggie Wells and Greg Toler, to current Cardinals John Brown, Darren Fells, J.J. Nelson, Rodney Gunter, and David Johnson, small school products have been an important staple on the Cardinals depth chart for years.
The most intriguing player in this current crop is Johnson, a running back who was drafted in the third round from Northern Iowa. Johnson looks like a typical "big-school back" at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds with breakaway speed . He was a multi-sport star in high school, and had a 3.0 grade point average, but for whatever reason was under the recruiting radar. Johnson didn't get a ton of attention coming out of college either, in part because of where running backs were taken in recent drafts.
Johnson has moved beyond that and into the NFL spotlight, where he is making eye-opening plays. There were some people who were concerned about the Cardinals' rushing attack after the Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington injuries. But people inside the organization weren't worried. They were excited to see how Johnson would perform as the go-to guy, having confidence in the talent they drafted, and in Johnson's production so far.
Johnson has shown tremendous footwork, patience and speed for a big back, and has great pass catching ability. If it weren't for Todd Gurley of the Rams, people would be talking about David Johnson as the best rookie running back. The biggest problem for Johnson has been ball security, which is often typical for rookies. The Chargers Melvin Gordon (rookie from Wisconsin) has also had trouble, with six fumbles this season.
In time, Johnson will be fine. In fact, I think he will be better than fine. Johnson has as much raw talent as any running back the Cardinals have had in a long time. He's the first player in NFL history to score a rushing, receiving, and kickoff return touchdown in his first two games. That's not by accident or good fortune. The talent is there for David Johnson to set more records over the next decade.