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David Johnson, Receiving Superstar

The great Chris Wesseling at NFL.com published an article this week about Cardinals running back David Johnson.  The piece contained lofty praise about Johnson’s receiving ability, so much so that it made me want to re-evaluate his rookie stats.

One place where Johnson’s receiving ability stands out is in his yards per reception. As a rookie last year, he became the first player (rookie or otherwise) in 16 years to average 12 yards per reception while gaining at least 400+ rushing yards and 400+ receiving yards.   And just the third in the last 25 years:

 
Games Rushing Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Draft Tm G GS Att Yds Y/A TD Y/G Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 David Johnson 2015 24 3-86 ARI 16 5 125 581 4.65 8 36.3 36 457 12.69 4 28.6
2 Marshall Faulk* 1999 26 1-2 STL 16 16 253 1381 5.46 7 86.3 87 1048 12.05 5 65.5
3 Garrison Hearst 1998 27 1-3 SFO 16 16 310 1570 5.06 7 98.1 39 535 13.72 2 33.4
4 Gary Anderson 1990 29 1-20 TAM 16 13 166 646 3.89 3 40.4 38 464 12.21 2 29.0
5 Barry Sanders* 1990 22 1-3 DET 16 16 255 1304 5.11 13 81.5 36 480 13.33 3 30.0
6 Albert Bentley 1987 27 2-35 IND 12 4 142 631 4.44 7 52.6 34 447 13.15 2 37.3
7 James Brooks 1986 28 1-24 CIN 16 16 205 1087 5.30 5 67.9 54 686 12.70 4 42.9
8 Gary Anderson 1985 24 1-20 SDG 12 6 116 429 3.70 4 35.8 35 422 12.06 2 35.2
9 Curtis Dickey 1983 27 1-5 BAL 16 16 254 1122 4.42 4 70.1 24 483 20.13 3 30.2
10 Darrin Nelson 1983 24 1-7 MIN 15 9 154 642 4.17 1 42.8 51 618 12.12 0 41.2
11 Joe Cribbs 1981 23 2-29 BUF 15 15 257 1097 4.27 3 73.1 40 603 15.08 7 40.2
12 Billy Sims 1981 26 1-1 DET 14 14 296 1437 4.85 13 102.6 28 451 16.11 2 32.2
13 Billy Sims 1980 25 1-1 DET 16 16 313 1303 4.16 13 81.4 51 621 12.18 3 38.8
14 Wilbert Montgomery 1979 25 6-154 PHI 16 16 338 1512 4.47 9 94.5 41 494 12.05 5 30.9
15 Greg Pruitt 1977 26 2-30 CLE 14 14 236 1086 4.60 3 77.6 37 471 12.73 1 33.6
16 Sherman Smith 1977 23 2-58 SEA 14 14 163 763 4.68 4 54.5 30 419 13.97 2 29.9
17 O.J. Simpson* 1975 28 1-1 BUF 14 14 329 1817 5.52 16 129.8 28 426 15.21 7 30.4
18 Mike Thomas 1975 22 5-108 WAS 14 10 235 919 3.91 4 65.6 40 483 12.08 3 34.5
19 Mack Herron 1974 26 6-143 NWE 14 14 231 824 3.57 7 58.9 38 474 12.47 5 33.9
20 Larry Brown 1973 26 8-191 WAS 14 14 273 860 3.15 8 61.4 40 482 12.05 6 34.4
21 Larry Brown 1972 25 8-191 WAS 12 12 285 1216 4.27 8 101.3 32 473 14.78 4 39.4
22 Cid Edwards 1972 29 SDG 12 12 157 679 4.32 5 56.6 40 557 13.93 2 46.4
23 Carl Garrett 1972 25 3-58 NWE 10 6 131 488 3.73 5 48.8 30 410 13.67 0 41.0
24 Essex Johnson 1972 26 6-156 CIN 14 11 212 825 3.89 4 58.9 29 420 14.48 2 30.0

And while you may remember Johnsons’s game-clinching, 55-yard touchdown catch against the Saints, it wasn’t just one or two catches boosting up his average gain. Consider: there were 40 running backs last year who had at least 25 receptions.  Of that group, only Johnson (58%) converted at least half of his receptions into first downs. To find a player with a better conversion rate, you’d have to go down to Arian Foster, who converted 13 of his 22 catches (59%) into first downs.))

RkPlayerRec1Dratio
1David Johnson362158.3%
2Danny Woodhead803948.8%
3James White401947.5%
4Dion Lewis361747.2%
5Benny Cunningham261246.2%
6Bilal Powell472144.7%
7Mark Ingram502244%
7Ameer Abdullah251144%
9Charles Sims512243.1%
10T.J. Yeldon361541.7%
11Theo Riddick803240%
11Chris Thompson351440%
11Marcel Reece301240%
14James Starks431739.5%
15Giovani Bernard491938.8%
16Duke Johnson622438.7%
16Dexter McCluster311238.7%
18Matt Forte441738.6%
19C.J. Spiller341338.2%
20Darren Sproles552138.2%
21DeAngelo Williams401537.5%
21LeSean McCoy321237.5%
21Fred Jackson321237.5%
24Shane Vereen592237.3%
25Javorius Allen451533.3%
25Chris Ivory301033.3%
27Frank Gore341132.4%
28Lamar Miller471531.9%
29Jonathan Grimes26830.8%
30Doug Martin331030.3%
31Darren McFadden401230%
31Adrian Peterson30930%
33DeMarco Murray441329.5%
34Devonta Freeman732128.8%
35Rashad Jennings29827.6%
36Shaun Draughn27725.9%
37Melvin Gordon33824.2%
38C.J. Anderson25624%
39Latavius Murray41922%
40Justin Forsett31412.9%

It’s obviously premature to talk about Johnson as an all-time great receiving back, despite the quotes in Wesseling’s article. But this gives us something else to keep an eye on in 2016.

  • LightsOut85

    Examining RB receiving data always makes me wish there was a way (specifically a publicly available way) to compare RB receiving apples-to-apples (routes, distance of catch-point, etc). Some backs make a lot of their catches past the line of scrimmage (in a more traditional receiving role – like Faulk & Johnson), while others catch a lot of check-down/swing passes behind the line.

    There’s probably some bias towards my Chargers here, but I’ve always thought the lack of such details has underrated Tomlinson’s receiving stats. Obviously he’s done well with counting stats, but his efficiency metrics are “okay” at best & actually bad if you’re using some value-over-average method. I’m usually not a fan of people bring up “the eye test”, but LT had the athleticism & skills/hands to be a great receiving back (efficiency wise). Unfortunately so many of his passes were check-downs (his Yards-YAC/rec supports this notion), and it didn’t help that in his prime there wasn’t much of a passing game to take attention away from him.

  • Dan

    Johnson’s season is less impressive (though still quite good) if you look at yards per target. David Johnson (8.02 YPT) & Charles Sims (8.01 YPT) became the 24th and 25th players to join the 400-400-8.0 club since 1992.

    • LightsOut85

      I’ve never been a fan of per-target measure for evaluating the person catching the ball. Just for Johnson, he had 21 incomplete passes towards him, but only 3 drops (according to Sporting Charts). Granted there could be other ways you could assign blame to the receiver (wrong route, perhaps just not giving enough effort on an accurate pass), but with just 14.3% of the inc. being drops, I just don’t think it’s a good reflection of the receiver.

      Perhaps Yards / rec+drop, but I’ve found that doesn’t produce a drastically different ordering than plain ‘ole yards/rec.