Matt Kartozian/USA Today Sports

Position capsule: Running back

Only two of the five running backs the Cardinals used in 2016 are under contract for the 2017 season, which means the depth chart could feature key changes next year.

Position Capsule: Running back

Returners: David JohnsonKerwynn Williams

Free agents: Chris JohnsonAndre EllingtonStepfan Taylor

Contracts: Johnson-2017-$799,843, 2018-$889,344, Williams-2017-$675,000

Current Roster Number: 2

Ideal Roster Number: 4

2016 Performance: Perhaps no team received more critical production from a single player this year than the Cardinals received from David Johnson, who carried the ball nearly 300 times and added 80 receptions as the team's top receiver behind No. 1 wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Johnson's sophomore season in the NFL was everything the Cardinals hoped it would be and more, as he amassed 100 yards from scrimmage in an NFL record 15 consecutive games and scored 20 touchdowns to lead Arizona's offense.

Behind Johnson, however, Arizona's backs struggled to carve out roles as Chris Johnson suffered a groin injury that ended his season just four weeks into the year while Ellington never emerged from David Johnson's shadow. Ellington set career lows in every rushing and receiving category and was largely ineffective when the Cardinals did put him in the game. 

Despite being listed as a running back, Taylor is largely on the roster solely to contribute to Arizona's special teams units, as he saw his offensive playing time decrease in 2016. 

The one bright spot behind David Johnson this season was the play of Williams, who proved his worth as an effective 'Wildcat' quarterback. In just 18 rushing attempts, Williams average more than 8.0 yards per carry and busted off three 20-plus yard runs including a 49-yard touchdown against New Orleans to give the Cardinals a first quarter lead. Though Williams' production was positive, it didn't come until late in the season, leaving David Johnson as a true workhorse for much of the year.

2017 readiness: At the top of the depth chart, there's no question about the Cardinals' readiness for 2017. As long as David Johnson fully recovers from a sprained MCL suffered in the final week of the season, he poses challenges for opposing defenses as one of the league's premier ball carriers and one of its toughest mismatches when he splits out as a receiver. 

However, behind Johnson, the Cardinals will need to build up depth, as Arizona should hope to reduce Johnson's workload and keep him fresh deeper into 2017. If the Cardinals make a playoff run next season, they can't afford to have Johnson touching the ball 30-to-35 times per game during the regular season as was often the case this year. For Johnson to be at his best, Arizona will need to find him a worthy compliment, ideally someone with more experience than Williams, who could end up settling nicely into the No. 3 back role next year.

If the Cardinals believe Williams is ready to assume the primary backup spot, perhaps practice squad back Elijhaa Penny will make the jump to the active roster in 2017.

The long haul: After the 2017 season concludes, the Cardinals should do everything in their power to lock up Johnson for the long-term, because much like Fitzgerald, he's the type of player the franchise can build the offense around for years to come. To date, Johnson has demonstrated the size, speed and durability to be an every down back, and his skills are broad in scope, allowing the Cardinals to deploy him in a variety of ways.

The future of the team's offense clearly rests in Johnson's hands, because as long as Johnson remains healthy, he'll continue to rank as one of the top five running backs in the league for years to come. The question for the future is whether or not Arizona can find a player whose skills compliment Johnson's and who's comfortable playing second fiddle to a star, but based on the way he carried the ball in the final weeks, Williams looks like he deserves a shot at earning that role.

Draft need: Low priority

Position overview: If the Cardinals want to build more depth behind Johnson at the position, they may be best-served finding a scat-back type player with more durability than Ellington in the final rounds of the draft this spring. For a cheap price tag, Arizona could add a piece behind Johnson who can split wide as a receiver or handle certain run plays as a zone back while Johnson splits wide to draw attention from opposing defenses. Regardless, the Cardinals are in a great place moving forward at running back, with one of the league's premier players still playing out his rookie contract for the next two seasons. 


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