90-man roster analysis: Running back Tier Key
1: Players who, barring a significant setback or injury, will make the Cardinals’ 53-man roster this season
2: Players who must compete for a spot on the Cardinals’ 53-man roster this season
3: Players who are likely to be cut by the Cardinals prior to the team finalizing its 53-man roster this season
Tier 1: David Johnson
Analysis: The Cardinals still have quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, but the face of this team’s offense is third-year running back David Johnson, who became the first player in NFL history to record 15 consecutive games with 100 yards from scrimmage a season ago. Johnson was one of the most prolific backs in the league last season, amassing over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, including more than 1,200 rushing yards and over 800 receiving yards. Had the Cardinals posted a better record last season, there’s no doubt Johnson would have been in consideration for an MVP award, but there’s nothing stopping him from winning one down the line. Johnson has tremendous potential and an elite skill set that makes him the Cardinals’ unquestioned workhorse in the backfield, which has likely prevented the team from luring a quality backup onto the roster via free agency.
Tier 2: Kerwynn Williams, T.J. Logan, Elijhaa Penny
Analysis: The Cardinals are extraordinarily high on Kerwynn Williams considering the Utah State product has fewer than 100 career carries and just 545 career yards to his name. Still, it’s not hard to see why the Cardinals like him, because Williams is elusive in space and boasts great short-area speed that makes him a weapon in shotgun formations. Though Williams isn’t a full-service back and never will be, the team may be able to rely on Idaho product Elijhaa Penny, a practice squad player a season ago, to fulfill some of the roles Stepfan Taylor played during his tenure with the franchise. At 6-foot-2 and 234 pounds, Penny has the size to step in and pass block on third downs, and the rugged mentality to pick up a yard or two when the Cardinals need it most in short yardage situations. Both Williams and Penny will compete for reps with T.J. Logan, the team’s fifth round draft pick who will be a near lock to make the roster this fall, but still must prove he’s durable enough to help the team in the backfield as well as on special teams. Logan is a bit redundant to Williams as a back, but has a longer stride and is probably faster in the open field, which will make him a weapon on the Cardinals’ kick return unit. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if one of these players doesn’t wind up on the 53-man roster this fall, because Arizona does need to consider adding another more experienced back before training camp to ensure the team is in good shape should anything happen to Johnson.
Tier 3: James Summers
Analysis: A former junior college quarterback, Summers converted to running back when he transferred to East Carolina and became the team’s starter as a senior. Though Summers fell short of the 1,000-yard plateau, he led the Pirates with 869 rushing yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Summers will presumably battle with Penny because he’s a bigger-bodied player in the mold of a third down back who can provide the team with a broader, versatile skill set. Summers is slimmer than Penny, but at 6-foot-3, he could be more elusive in tight quarters. The best case scenario for Summers is likely landing on Arizona’s practice squad and hoping he can find a way to provide some sort of value to the Cardinals’ backfield.
The Arizona Cardinals plan on maximizing David Johnson’s workload for the second straight season, but the team still needs to consider adding quality depth behind the offensive star.