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Redskins Draft Countdown: Northern Iowa RB David Johnson

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.

David Johnson
Running back
Northern Iowa


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.

Bob Sturum, Dallas Morning News

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 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:

  1. bowlregard - Apr 7, 2015 at 3:11 PM

    He sure has an impressive high-light reel.

  2. wvredskins - Apr 7, 2015 at 3:59 PM

    Yeah he is def impressive. At his size and running a 4.5, is worth a look and most importantly his catching ability

  3. deepball1 - Apr 7, 2015 at 5:42 PM

    He is Jim Brown. Draft him with the 5th pick.

    Seriously now….its a crap shoot. There are 3000 running backs in these colleges, some with speed, some with size, etc etc etc ALL and I do mean ALL the scouts pegged Alfred Morris as late round selection or free agent…and he is the 2nd leading rusher in the NFL since he was drafted.

    A lot has to do with SYSTEM…or how good your line is. Emmit Smith was hard to tackle but he used to gain 5 yards sometimes before anybody even touched him……because he had 5 PRO BOWL linemen up front and a PRO BOWL fullback blocking and a PRO BOWL tight end.

    Why not focus on on making this offensive line better with PRO BOWL guys and Morris, Redd, and THompson will gain 2000 yards and it won’t be such a big decision who to draft.

    • Rich Tandler - Apr 7, 2015 at 5:56 PM

      So I guess there’s no reason why Adrian Peterson has a $12 million salary and Darren McFadden makes $900K. Because they’re all the same. Guess the entire league isn’t so smart.

      Oh, I forgot. Deepball knows all and the rest of us haven’t taken Football 101. Here’s a tip—there will probably be many more posts on running backs. You are welcome to skip commenting on them is you think they are all the same.

      By the way, we all get the idea of the Pro Bowl, you really don’t need to capitalize the whole thing.

      > > >

      • ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© - Apr 7, 2015 at 6:16 PM

        We need a reliable catch-passing back, and if that guy is also big enough to pick up a blitz, it’s a major plus.

        My only objection is that our high 3rd round pick might get us a fine secondary prospect as an alternative.

    • troylok - Apr 7, 2015 at 7:12 PM

      Aren’t you being a little narrow minded in what a running back is? A good running back is more than a runner: they have to block and catch the ball – and if in the case of this guy, they can return kicks, then bonus.

      I like the fact that this guy used to play receiver. I don’t the fact that he played in a small school with inferior competition and sometimes seemed to have trouble finding his turbo mode. I think we can take it as a given that he hasn’t had any experience blocking blitzing linebackers, let alone NFL linebackers. This guy is an intriguing prospect but I think he is a reach.

      As for the excessive use of “PROBOWL”, my personal opinion is give me a bunch of brown baggers and I can build a great football team. They might not be going to Hawaii every year, but they will stay in training room and the gym long after those other guys are gone.

  4. bowlregard - Apr 8, 2015 at 8:10 AM

    Javorius Allen has a good high-light reel as well.

  5. renhoekk2 - Apr 8, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    I don’t know if level of competition is as big of factor for a running back as some other positions. So much of RB is instincts and vision. That should be applicable regardless of competition. Same with ability to catch a football. Either a RB has instincts and vision or he doesn’t. If you are looking at stats then yes I guess you have to take competition level into consideration. Archives

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