Apr 7, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT
The NFL Draft is just over weeks away and I’ll continue researching the prospects throughout the lead-up to the draft. Along the way I’ll be sharing some of what I find out with Real Redskins readers. The focus will be on players in areas of need for the Redskins but I might look at players at just about any position since Scot McCloughan has said that he will take the best player available regardless of need.
What they’re saying:
What I liked: Johnson is a big strong man who is tough to get down and a guy who runs well inside his scheme. He is sturdy and a real workhouse who can do a lot of things well for you. He can easily pass protect with his size and his receiving ability is absolutely top shelf. He has great hands and is able to catch and run in an instant. He also can stop on a dime and has some real jump cuts that are nice. His 40-time at the combine was 4.5, which is more than fast enough at RB, and even more impressive, his 10-yard split of 1.58 was about as quick as you will see.
What I did not like: The hardest part of looking at a runner at this level is trying to figure out what sort of level of competition he is working with and against. He trucks a few linebackers in these games, but they do not appear to be of NFL quality by any stretch. His quickness and explosiveness in-games does not reflect his amazing times. There are stretches where he just doesn’t look like he has any turbo at all in his game.
How he fits the Redskins: The Redskins are looking for a third-down back and Johnson could be the best option for that job in the draft. Johnson, who some colleges talked to about being a wide receiver when recruiting him, caught at least 30 passes in all four of his seasons at Northern Iowa, a total of 141 receptions for an average of 12.3 yards and 14 touchdowns. No other running back prospect in this year’s draft has more than one season with 30 catches on his resume.
Johnson is more than just a scatback making a living on swing passes. He has good size (6-1, 224), speed (4.5 in the 40 including an impressive 10-yard split of 1.58), and athleticism (see the combine “spider web” from Mockdraftable.com above). Over the course of his career Johnson rushed for 4,682 yards including 1,553 last year.
Another factor going in Johnson’s favor is his kick return ability. He didn’t do it full time in college but last year he had 12 returns for an impressive 36.5-yard average with a touchdown. In the Senior Bowl he returned three kickoffs for a 27.3-yard average.
Potential issues: The biggest negative on Johnson’s ledger is where he played and whom he played against. Northern Iowa is in the FCS division (formerly known as 1-AA). When he breaks a tackle or turns on the jets and outruns a defender, you have to wonder what might have happened if the Panthers had been playing Ohio State or USC.
Bottom line: What the Redskins need to ponder here is similar to what I wrote about previously regarding Alabama’s T. J. Yeldon. If the Redskins are going to spend a top 100 selection on a running back—both Johnson and Yeldon are projected to be third-round picks—do they need to be fairly confident that the back they take can carry the load in case Alfred Morris in injured or if he leaves in free agency a year from now. A third-round pick does not necessarily have to be a starter but you want him to develop into more than just a situational player.
Johnson’s kick-return ability could help nudge his value up even if Scot McCloughan has some doubts about him being a workhorse back. But it will still come down to projecting how he can perform taking the big jump from FCS to the NFL. That will be the biggest challenge for McCloughan and the rest of the GM’s evaluating Johnson.
In his own words
Johnson on his pass catching ability:
Oh yeah, that’s something I work on a lot. One-on-one routes we would do every day in practice. After practice, I always tried to work on my routes with the receivers . . . In high school, I actually was a running back and wide receiver. Coming out of high school, because of my height and I was only about 180-190, a lot of colleges were talking to me about playing receiver. Going into college, all I was working on was receiving. My college actually recruited me as an athlete to play receiver. I played receiver for the first week of camp. That’s where it came from, training for that.
Previously in Draft Countdown:
- Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
- Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson
- Penn State S Adrian Amos
- Duke G Laken Tomlinson
- LSU OT La’el Collins
- Clemson Edge Vic Beasley
- Alabama S Landon Collins
- West Virginia WR Kevin White
- Florida DE Dante Fowler Jr.
- Oklahoma NT Jordan Phillips
- Utah CB Eric Rowe
- Nebraska DE Randy Gregory
- Virginia S Anthony Harris
- Florida State G Tre Jackson
- Syracuse S Durell Eskridge
- Stanford OT Andrus Peat
- Ole Miss S Cody Prewitt
- USC DT Leonard Williams
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