David Johnson Arizona Cardinals
David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals escapes the tackle of Glover Quin #27 of the Detroit Lions during a second-half run at Ford Field on Sept. 10, 2017 in Detroit. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Few players had higher expectations placed upon them before the current NFL season than Arizona Cardinals' running back David Johnson. The third-year player had a breakout season in 2016 with more than 2,100 total yards and 20 touchdowns, and he appeared ready to put up more big numbers in 2017.

That was especially true in the world of fantasy football, where no one was valued more than Johnson last summer. His average draft position was first overall in both ESPN and Yahoo leagues, putting him ahead of perennial star players like Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.

It didn’t take long for many fantasy owners to regret their decision as Johnson suffered a wrist injury in the season’s very first game. Surgery was required, forcing the Cardinals to place Johnson on Injured Reserve just two days after the season opener. That meant the running back would be out until at least Week 10, and he was ruled out for the remainder of the season after Week 11.

With fantasy sports—fantasy football in particular—growing every year, it’s no surprise that many of the fans who participate in it take it very seriously. That’s led to NFL players who don’t perform as expected to receive plenty of backlash on social media, and Johnson might have experienced that more than anyone this year.

“Especially when they found out I was put on IR, I got a lot on social media,” Johnson told International Business Times, regarding the backlash he received from fantasy football owners. “I think that’s all I got. So I try to stay off social media, but I got it all. I got it to where people said that I owed them money because they had to pay for their fantasy team or I should be in their debt. So I got some crazy stuff. Obviously a lot of them were disappointed in me this last season.”

More than 59 million people played fantasy sports in the United States and Canada in 2017, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. That number has increased exponentially in the last few years, growing from 19.4 million in 2007 and 41.5 million in 2014.

“I definitely laugh and brush it off. I think it’s just funny how important or how crazy and how big fantasy has gotten. I never really knew much about fantasy football until I got to the league,” Johnson told IBT, promoting Rockin' Protein, which he drinks to recover and build muscle for peak performance.

“I was kind of forced into learning about it because wherever I went, people didn’t know about me from the Cardinals, but they knew about me from fantasy. Even now, anywhere I go, it’s not really about playing for the Cardinals. It’s about playing for their fantasy team. So I think I’m kind of embracing it. It’s a cool way to get new fans.”

Of course, Johnson was more affected by the injury than anyone that owned him in a fantasy league. After his breakout season in his second year, the running back was ready to cement his spot as one of the NFL’s most dynamic players.

Johnson was supposed to be a catalyst for a bounce-back year by the Cardinals. Arizona went 7-8-1 in 2016 after going all the way to the NFC Championship Game the previous season.

With their top playmaker set to miss just about the entire season, the Cardinals never got on track. They were defeated by the Detroit Lions in Week 1 during the only game in which Johnson played, and Arizona didn’t put together two straight victories until the season finale.

Johnson missed 15 games and Carson Palmer sat out half the year with a broken arm, resulting in an 8-8 finish and no playoff berth.

“It was devastating, very tough for me,” Johnson said. “It was a hard time for me. Probably the longest season I’ve been through. The hardest season for sure that I’ve been in. Being on the sidelines, watching the games, it was very tough to watch. Feeling like I can’t do anything for the team. I can’t play the sport that I love.”

Johnson is set to return, but the Cardinals will be forced into making some major changes ahead of the 2018 season. Palmer announced his retirement at the end of the regular season, leaving Arizona in search of a new starting quarterback. Head coach Bruce Arians retired, as well, and he’s been replaced by former Carolina Panthers' defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

Having not played competitive football in four months, Johnson is fully recovered from his injury. He’d be healthy enough to suit up if Arizona had somehow made it to the Super Bowl, and the running back is ready to show that 2016 was no fluke.

“I feel like I always have something to prove,” Johnson said. “Coming from a small school, I feel like I always have a chip on my shoulder. I’m gonna go into next season with that mindset. Ready to play and show my worth. Get my respect back to how it was in 2016 and hopefully improve and show that I can still do everything like nothing happened and be a dominant running back in this league.”