Daily Focus: Theo Riddick—not David Johnson—NFL's top receiving back
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
RB David Johnson is not the best receiving back ever—at least, not yet: Yesterday, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim commented that running back David Johnson was probably the best receiving running back he’s ever seen. That’s high praise indeed, and while Johnson might be on the path to that title, he’s not even the best receiving back in the NFL right now. That honor goes to Detroit Lions out-of-the-backfield stud Theo Riddick.
Riddick forced 36 missed tackles on 80 receptions last year as he finished 2015 with a 99.9 receiving grade, the highest we’ve ever seen from a running back in the NFL in our 10 years of grading. Riddick was tremendous last year, and should once again see a big role in the Lions’ passing offense in 2016.
Johnson ranked ninth among running backs in the NFL with a receiving grade of 83.7, but while he wasn’t quite there last year, there are reasons for optimism to think that he might be able to challenge Riddick for the title of top receiving back in the NFL this year. He made a huge impact at the end of the 2015 season, with nine of the 17 missed tackles he forced coming in the final four weeks of the regular season, including five against the Green Bay Packers in week 16. That included the play below, and it’s this ability to make people miss in space that makes Johnson a candidate to be both the focal point of the Arizona offense, and one of the best running backs in the NFL in 2016. To call him the best receiving back of all-time is a stretch, but after an impressive end to 2016, nobody can deny that he has the skill-set to put himself among the best if he can continue to improve.
Riddick has sneaky RB2 value
Riddick has considerable PPR value, but he has fantasy potential in any format.
Time for fifth-rounder Tajae Sharp to step up in Titans’ receiving corps: The biggest transaction in the NFL yesterday was the trade that sent WR Dorial Green-Beckham from the Tennessee Titans to the Philadelphia Eagles, with backup offensive lineman Dennis Kelly going the other way. It’s a disappointing move for the Titans, given that they drafted Green-Beckham in the second round just a year ago, but from everything we’ve heard this offseason, it doesn’t really impact the depth chart, as he had plummeted down it and looked to be on his way out of Tennessee for some time.
The top three wide receivers on the Titans’ depth chart, even before the trade, were Kendall Wright—who hasn’t lived up to his billing as the 20th player selected in the 2012 NFL draft, but has developed into a solid slot receiver—new addition Rishard Matthews, and fifth-round draft pick Tajae Sharpe (UMass). Sharpe is the one to watch here, as it’s rare to see a fifth-round rookie elevated into the starting lineup so soon.
We weren’t convinced that what Sharpe produced on film in college was likely to transfer to the NFL, but he did have the 14th-highest overall grade among college WRs in 2015. He was helped by being the focal point of the UMass offense, with 177 passes thrown his way, but it’s tough to argue against his production, with the former Minuteman racking up 1,306 yards and dropping just three of the 115 catchable passes thrown his way. His development is one we’ll be keeping a close eye on this year.
Marcell Dareus suspension a major blow to Bills’ defense: News that talented Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Marcell Dareus will miss the first four games of the 2016 season due to a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy broke yesterday. This is yet another critical hit to the Bills’ defense, as the team hoped to get out in front of the Tom Brady-less New England Patriots early in the year. More importantly, it creates a big hole in Buffalo’s defensive line.
Dareus was a nose tackle in the Bills’ base defense in 2015, but moved around in sub-packages, finishing the year with the 17th-highest grade among interior defenders, at 87.4. He might not be at the level of Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt in terms of his ability to take over a game, but make no mistake about it, this is a huge loss for the Bills, even just for four weeks.
Corbin Bryant is his likely replacement and, while he played well enough to be our 48th-highest graded player on the defensive interior last season, that’s a pretty steep drop-off from Dareus. Dareus was supposed to again be the star on the D-line, and would have likely seen the focus from opposing offensive lines, but the Bills will have to get through the first four games of the year without him.