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Sean Payton: Cards' David Johnson a 'transformer'

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The Arizona Cardinals might be in the midst of a disappointing season, but David Johnson put his stamp on 2016 as the engine that moves Bruce Arians' offense.

The powering runner ranks third in the NFL with 1,085 rushing yards and leads running backs with 745 receiving yards (by far the most by an RB; Le'Veon Bell is second at 563 after an early season suspension; third sits James White at 474 yards). Johnson has earned 100-plus scrimmage yards in all 13 games this season, only the second player in NFL history to accomplish the feat behind Edgerrin James.

"When you see those numbers, you're seeing a transformer-type player in that he's a ball carrier, he's out in space, it's third down, now he's out in the route," New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said Thursday ahead of Sunday's matchup versus the Cardinals, via The Times-Picayune.

Johnson is a mismatch nightmare on the outside that Arians is not afraid to deploy, using Johnson all over the formation. While 80 percent of his snaps are out of the backfield, 12 percent come out wide and the final eight percent are in the slot. Johnson has taken 172 snaps from a receiver position, earning 36 targets, and catching 23 passes from either the slot or out wide, per Next Gen Stats. With solid route running and receiver-like hands, Johnson burns linebackers and overpowers safeties.

"He's second in their third-down receptions and conversions, and all those numbers," Payton said. "And then it's that how you're matching up, like who's getting him. Are you putting a linebacker or a safety on him? So, that creates some problems."

Johnson carries the Cardinals' offense. The running back averages 24.4 touches per game. The next closest are Larry Fitzgerald (7.2) and John Brown (4.2).

Arizona was eliminated from the NFC West race with the Seahawks' win Thursday. In a substandard season, David Johnson has been the lone beacon of hope in the desert.

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