Daily Focus: Theo Riddick—not David Johnson—NFL’s top receiving back

Gordon McGuinness breaks down Steve Keim's comments on RB David Johnson, Marcell Dareus' suspension, and more.

| 2 months ago
Lions RB Theo Riddick

(Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

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.

David Johnson missed tackle forced

Riddick has sneaky RB2 value

Riddick has considerable PPR value, but he has fantasy potential in any format.

Check out the Lions depth chart

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.

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Why is it so hard to show a play from start to finish? I can’t believe I’m the only one who gets annoyed at some of the bad editing.

  • SkolBro

    Anyone’s running back would look like the “best” anything against the Packer’s pathetic defense! Skol!

  • Upeo

    To be fair Keim has seen a hell of a lot more of Jonhson than we have.

  • Bill Doerr

    Keim didn’t say he was the best receiving back he said he has the talent n skills to become the best receiving RB. One thing you have to know about Johnson is that he was a WR in High School and Recruited to college as a WR n was a receiver for a bit in College until he just kept growing getting so big/ripped at 6″2/225 he made the switch to RB……. Johnson is a natural hands catcher n excellent route runner with elite speed for his size running a 4.41 40 time , and as a back at 6″2/225 has elite power/strength n can with power between the tackles with the ability to run thru you or by you yet has the speed n elite lateral quickness & ability to slide/move laterally with ease to bounce his runs outside w/ ease & can stop/cut on a dime accelerating to top speed in just a few strides. His backround as a receiver paired with his natural elite athleticism n natural abilities make him a very rare unique one of a kind RB. Johnson is going to be an Elite top RB in the NFL For a long time. Right now I think he was the 2nd best RB in the 2015 draft but I think he has the ability to end up being better than Gurley as the best RB in the 2015 class when its all said and done… If Johnson has a better season than Gurley this year come the end of the year a lot of people will agree with me.

  • Bill Doerr

    Uhhh I hate to tell the writer this but just because Pro Football Focus doesn’t list David Johnson as the best RB in the NFL doesn’t mean he isn’t the best in the NFL …. Your guys way for coming up with grades isn’t the end all be all. PFF says one guy is the best while another site like Pro Football Outsiders DVOA says another is the best. David Johnson is a MUCH better RB than Theo freaking Riddick , no body in their right mind would take Riddick over Johnson if they are starting a team.