David Johnson On The Changing Cardinals And The Evolution Of NFL Fandom Through Fantasy Football

Getty Image

When David Johnson left Week 1’s game with a wrist injury, the entire country gasped, not just a collected group of fans wearing Cardinals jerseys in Arizona. Johnson entered the year as a near-unanimous number one pick in fantasy football, and with a large role in the Amazon and NFL Films All or Nothing documentary, he was becoming a star. The dynamic Northern Iowa back that entered the league with little fanfare looked like the second coming of LaDainian Tomlinson.

But enjoying his talents would have to wait. Wrist surgery put him out for the year, and now he has an offseason to regroup, rehabilitate, and readjust to a team that will be without head coach Bruce Arians and now-retired quarterback Carson Palmer next year. The scenario couldn’t be more nerve-wracking for fantasy players invested in David Johnson, but the question stands if fantasy owners should even really care at all.

As fantasy grows, the demands of fantasy owners of their players grow and become more toxic for no reason other than the anonymity of the internet. As someone who plans on keeping Johnson for the duration of his career (thanks to picking him up as a rookie), I wanted to ask him how he feels about the dynamic between fantasy players and NFL players, and how his 2017 season has motivated him to be a to fantasy pick yet again.

NFL players are seeing an influx of new fans outside their market thanks to fantasy football. I picked you up as a rookie in my keeper league and I definitely would say that I wouldn’t have followed your career if not for fantasy football. Now you’re one of my favorite players, not to mention a top overall pick. How does that make you feel?

Oh, it’s cool. It’s another way to get fans, like you said, different fans of different teams. I mean, there’s been people that I’ve talked to and they’ve been saying similar to like you said, and they’re fans of mine just because of fantasy football, not because they’re Cardinal fans, so it’s pretty cool to have a different aspect, different way to get fans.

I was so pumped for this year but when you went down with the wrist, it was heartbreaking. At the same time, I don’t want to think that anything like the silly little fantasy game is at all more important than the stakes of NFL football. But, do you not want to let down your fantasy fans? Does that matter in the grand scheme of things?

Oh, no. I’m definitely more focused on the team and my livelihood, and fantasy is cool, but my focus is primarily on making sure I’m ready to play or doing as much as I can for the team, and then playing the sport like you said. I’m a human, I’m a person, and injuries happen, and obviously I’m not going in to play in the game wanting to get injured and wanting not to play and not wanting to play, so I’m just as devastated or disappointed as those fantasy owners are, I am obviously more disappointed that I’m not playing the sport that I love.

You came in considered the number one overall pick. Were you aware you were considered a top fantasy player?

Yeah. There’s no way I could even hide away or get away from people talking to me about fantasy football, and anywhere I went, social media, anywhere I went in the state, New York, or anywhere, I was getting an earful about people drafting me number one overall, so it was cool. It was pretty cool to have people notice me for football, and fantasy actually is another way, because we wear helmets on the field, and that way they can actually see us, our profile picture, our profile.

Are you proud of that fact that you’re considered the best offensive player? Or, when it comes down to it do you just want to focus on the field?

You know, it’s cool. I just feel like fantasy has blown up so much that it’s kind of part of football, and I embrace it, for sure. I mean, I never knew much about fantasy football until I was kind of forced into it in the NFL, and so obviously, like I said, my main focus is playing for the Cardinals and playing the sport, but fantasy football is another way that fans can interact with us and stuff, so it’s cool.

Do you still feel like you’re gonna be a top-five pick next season? Do you have a chip on your shoulder after how this season shook out?

Oh, I can’t wait to get at it. I’m always gonna have a chip on my shoulder, just because I came from a small college when I was recruited, so I had a chip on my shoulder from the start, and I’m always gonna have that mentality. I can’t wait for the 2018 season to come along because it’s been a long offseason, for sure.

Do you feel any extra inspiration to be the top overall pick next year, and want to prove that even without Palmer and Arians that you’re going to dominate the league again?

I don’t really feel extra pressure. I mean, I hope I’m number one in fantasy, and I definitely want to prove that I’m better than what I was in 2016. I want to showcase my dominance that I started in 2016, and I definitely want to let people know that I’m back and I’m ready to go, and I’m gonna be a force to be reckoned with, so let’s bring on the 2018 season.

There are so many instances of fantasy football fans treating the players terribly on social media. How can the fans treat players better when it comes to fantasy?

You know what’s cool that I’ve seen, actually? In 2016, when I ended up winning the fantasy or some of those fantasy owners’ pots or whatever, they actually donated to a charity that I was with, and that’s a cool way that fantasy owners could have a positive interaction with the players. If a player helped their team, they should donate or in some way maybe take a picture of their winnings and thank the players that helped them get their win.