This piece was updated on Tuesday after news of David Johnson’s extended absence.
After injuring his wrist during Sunday’s 35-23 loss to the Lions, Cardinals running back David Johnson will be placed on the injured reserve and is expected to be out for two to three months, according to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.
Cardinals' RB David Johnson is having wrist surgery this week and is expected to miss 2-3 months, source tells ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 12, 2017
Earlier in the week there was hope that Johnson, who racked up 2,118 total yards with 20 touchdowns in the 2016 season, would miss only a few weeks. Now, it’s likely that he will miss a few months—if he returns during the 2017 season at all. The entire state of Arizona and millions of fantasy owners surely grimace with this news.
Johnson was injured late in the third quarter in Week 1. After catching a 24-yard pass from Carson Palmer near the goal line, Johnson was hit by two Detroit defenders. Though he managed to hang on for an impressive grab, he stayed down after the play. Johnson walked himself to the sideline, and after it was initially reported that he had the wind knocked out of him, he returned to the game. He fumbled on the first play of the next drive after a 5-yard gain on a tackle by A’Shawn Robinson. The Lions recovered the ball and Johnson headed to the locker room.
The Cardinals will now scramble for a replacement. Fifth-year pro and career backup Kerwynn Williams recorded five carries for 10 yards with a touchdown in Johnson’s absence, and Arizona is reportedly looking at bringing back Chris Johnson, whom the team released earlier this month.
Still, replicating David Johnson’s production will be nearly impossible. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage during a breakout 2016 campaign, establishing himself as one of the league’s most exciting and reliable young playmakers. “Very few humans possess his background or his physical skill set,” general manager Steve Keim told Sports Illustrated.
Johnson suffered a knee injury in Week 17 in January, but was healthy entering this fall and poised for another excellent season. He finished Sunday with 11 carries for 23 yards and six receptions for 68 yards.
The 25-year-old Pro Bowler is one of the rare running backs who does everything for his team, as he was the leading player at the position in targets, receiving yards, and broken tackles in the passing game in 2016, and was also the league’s highest-graded receiver, according to Pro Football Focus. In March, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said he wanted to get Johnson 30 touches a game, a figure seemingly plucked from a bygone era.
With Johnson expected to miss the bulk of the season, the Cardinals are reminded of the cost that comes with relying so heavily on a single player. Now Arizona has a massive amount of touches to redistribute in its offense. It’s a luxury for teams to have a Swiss army knife player like Johnson; we’ll see how resourceful Arians can be now that he lacks the option to use him.