Pro Football Focus ranked the NFL’s most elusive starting running backs. These aren’t the best running backs; it’s a list of the running backs who are the best at missing tackles.
Maybe Johnson should be a few spots higher strictly based on how good he was in 2016, but the last three years have been rough. Since 2017, Johnson ranks last among NFL backs on this list in missed tackles forced per touch (0.10) and yards after contact per rushing attempt (2.3). Those numbers were even worse when looking only at 2019. He was finally starting to flash as a receiver again early last season, but injuries once again put a halt to that progress. Is it realistic to think he gets back to the dynamic player that he was in 2016 — four years removed from that season — at this point? Probably not, hence Johnson keeping the last-place spot warm.
This offseason, the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals for David Johnson and a swap of second round picks that led to Houston acquiring Brandin Cooks from the Rams and Ross Blacklock in the NFL Draft. Johnson wasn’t a throwaway. The Texans wanted him for whatever reason, despite him being a bad running back last season and not having posted a great season since 2016. Johnson struggled to break tackles and played an entirely different sport than Kenyan Drake did in the same Arizona offense behind the same offensive line last year. His best skill is beating bad coverage linebackers like Nick Vigil in man coverage, something that Duke Johnson already does well for the Texans.
Hopefully Bill O’Brien is right and sees something no one else has seen. Because as of right now, everything—the film and the numbers—is pointing to Johnson being a lackluster player at this stage of his career.