Rookie Report Card: David Johnson and Nelson Agholor

Dan Meylor


Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover one or two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2015 potential and long term upside.

The series continues with a look at David Johnson and Nelson Agholor.

[am4show have=’g1;’ guest_error=’sub_message’ user_error=’sub_message’ ]

David Johnson, RB ARI
Week 14 Stats: 19 carries, 92 rushing yards, five receptions, 31 receiving yards

Johnson was one of my favorite prospects in last year’s draft. Coming out of Northern Iowa in the Missouri Valley Conference, he was a bit of an unknown to most. To those of us that had the opportunity to watch him though, it wasn’t difficult to see why NFL teams were interested in the small school prospect.

The first thing to jump off the screen when you watch Johnson is his impressive combination of size and speed. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 224 pounds, he has the size to handle the ball between the tackles. Although he runs with an upright style, he displays the power to break free from tacklers at the second level and always spins off hits and falls forward for extra yardage.

Johnson also excels as an outside runner, displaying impressive speed to the edge and the ability to cut back and hit a backside running lane. He also has eye popping agility for a guy his size. Frequently using a jump cut to evade tacklers, he’s elusive in the hole and has what it takes to make defenders miss. Once he gets in the open field, he’s also very hard to catch. With 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, he regularly outraces defenders down the sideline.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Johnson’s game is his skills as a pass catcher. Throughout his college career he displayed solid route running, excelling on option routes out of the backfield where he’d either cut inside an overplaying linebacker or take the route to the flat for a dump pass. With very soft hands, he’s incredibly reliable as a pass catcher and has proven to be a playmaker, immediately turning into a ball carrier and getting downfield after the catch.

If there was a weakness to Johnson’s game coming out of Northern Iowa, it revolved around his vision. Often being far too overzealous to make a cut on stretch plays, he’d regularly chose the first running lane rather than the best one. College defenses with good backside pursuit were able to bottle him up due to his lack of patience when running on the edge. That certainly had the potential to be a problem at the next level because of the amount of speed he’d face on Sundays.

Since being drafted in the third round by the Cardinals, Johnson has been impressive. Piling up 330 rushing yards on 76 carries (4.3 yards per carry) and four rushing touchdowns while also snagging 26 passes for 293 yards and four more scores, he’s made an impact both as a third down back and now as a full-time runner since the injuries to Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. His 599 return yards with a touchdown make him a threat in all facets of the game.

Over the last two weeks Johnson has played the part of workhorse for the Cardinals. He’s handled the ball 48 times for 243 yards with a receiving touchdown over that span, averaging 4.66 yards per carry while looking like a legitimate lead back.

On Thursday night against the Vikings, Johnson was solid once again playing the part of full-time running back. He ran hard, showed good burst through the hole and flashed impressive abilities as a receiver on the way to gaining 123 yards from scrimmage.

Although he’s been fun to watch throughout the year and is truly having a great rookie season, his impressive numbers on a per play basis haven’t been very helpful from a fantasy perspective until recently. That shouldn’t keep his dynasty owners from being enthusiastic about his upside in the future however.

Overall, Johnson has looked the part of a three down running back in his limited time playing the role. Whether that will be enough for the Cardinals to give him a bigger role in the future is unknown at this point, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Chris Johnson’s contract expires after this year so there’s the potential for David Johnson’s role to expand going into 2016.

With an offense like Arizona’s, any tailback getting 20 touches per game has RB2 upside. But considering Johnson’s combination of size and speed as well as his skills as a receiver, he has the potential to be a low-end RB1 if he’s able to earn the role going into next season. Although that’s no lock to happen, it’s certainly possible. That potential should make him an attractive trade target for dynasty owners looking for young upside at the position this off-season.


Nelson Agholor, WR PHI
Week 14 Stats: three receptions, 62 receiving yards, one touchdown

The case of Nelson Agholor over the off-season was an interesting one. During bowl season, he was locked in as a second round pick in rookie drafts. Once he was selected by Chip Kelly as the successor to Jeremy Maclin however, his draft stock soared. Let’s back up to the months leading up the NFL draft before looking at his work as an Eagle though.

During his time at USC, Agholor proved himself as a quality route runner. With a good burst off the line of scrimmage, he’s able to get opposing defensive backs on their heels quickly. When he reaches the top of his route, he uses sharp breaks and quick change of direction to gain separation. Also displaying a great football IQ, he seems to always run his routes beyond the first down marker and works his way back to the ball to cut off a defender’s path to the ball. Equally as effective against a zone as he is against man coverage, he’s got the instincts to find the opening in the defense and make a quality target for his quarterback.

Agholor also showed while in college that he possesses excellent hands, always catching the ball away from his body rather than letting the ball into his chest. Once he gets the ball in the hands, he’s incredibly dangerous, hitting top speed quickly and changing directions with ease to cut back behind pursuing defenders. Although he doesn’t have world class speed, he’s fast enough to get behind the defense and moves under the ball gracefully before catching the ball over his shoulder with ease.

Needless to say, I was a big fan of Agholor leading up to the draft despite being a tad undersized and having trouble at times with physical corners. Parts of his game such as his quickness and his ability to take advantage of zone coverage reminded me of Randall Cobb. Even with those similarities however, I never saw him becoming a mid-first round pick in rookie drafts which is where he was being selected during the summer.

Dynasty owners that invested such a high draft pick in Agholor had high expectations coming into his rookie season. Up until Sunday afternoon, he was a disappointment.

Despite only having Riley Cooper and Josh Huff to compete with for playing time, Agholor struggled to see the field. While part of that can be attributed to a couple nagging injuries that have plagued him throughout the year, it’s quite fair to say at this point that he simply hasn’t been good enough in the eyes of the Philadelphia coaching staff to get more playing time than Cooper or Huff.

Catching just 16 passes for 163 yards through his first nine games as a pro, many wrote Agholor’s rookie season off as a red-shirt year. That changes slightly on Sunday against the Bills though when he caught his first touchdown on a 53-yard post route.

On that second-and-26 play, Agholor lined up wide to the right across from Ronald Darby, who was in off coverage and had help from safety Corey Graham in the middle of the field. While that coverage wouldn’t normally create an opportunity for a deep post, Agholor was able to use his quickness to get on top of the coverage easily. Once he accomplished that, he simply ran under a perfectly thrown ball by Sam Bradford and glided into the end zone.

While his stat line was inflated due to one big play, it was certainly encouraging to Agholor’s dynasty owners to see him make a splash play. Those that own him should see him as a WR4 with upside going into next season. Because he still carries WR2 upside, he’s an excellent trade target for those looking for youth at the position.



dan meylor