Running Back - East Carolina
Combine Height: 5-11
Combine Weight: 197
Combine 40 Time: 4.24
Carried 236 times for 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns; added 528 receiving yards and six more scores, as well as 1,009 kick return yards and another touchdown. Led the nation in all-purpose yardage and set an NCAA bowl game record with 408 all-purpose yards in the Hawaii Bowl.
In the time it takes you to read this sentence, Johnson will have covered roughly half the distance of a football field—maybe the entire length of the field, if your lips are moving or you need to follow along with your finger. Johnson’s 4.24 40 at the Combine elevated him from small-school stud with gaudy numbers to potentially a Day One candidate. However, the consensus amongst scouts seems to be that Johnson isn’t built to be an every-down back. Factor in his smallish build and an upright running style and he’s bound to be typecast as a change-of-pace scatback.
On the flip side, you can’t hit what you can’t catch and would-be tacklers have had little success getting to Johnson in the past. There’s a difference, however, between C-USA defenses and those Johnson will face on Sunday. Until Johnson proves otherwise, he’ll be slotted in a Jerious Norwood-type of role at the NFL level.
The ideal situation will plant Johnson in a job share with a bigger back to do the heavy lifting between the tackles; it would keep him from absorbing a beating and likely free him up for some kick return duties as well. The Cowboys could pair Johnson with Marion Barber late in Round Two, but with a solid set of second-tier backs there’s a good chance he won’t hear his name called until early on Sunday. The Bears and Lions have a need, but both teams prefer a power running game; however, both also have a pair of third-round picks, so perhaps they’ll pair Johnson with a bigger back like Matt Forte or Tashard Choice. The Texans already have a stable of fragile backs; tossing Johnson into the mix alongside Ahman Green and Chris Brown just might cover Houston’s bases for a full 16-game slate.
Johnson’s speed is too enticing to NFL offensive coordinators for him to spend too much time chilling on the sidelines. He’ll return kicks (as coaches entertain visions of their own Devin Hester), and despite having smallish hands he’s an adept pass catcher and could wind up as a slot receiver—short term or potentially for the long haul. If you suffered through stashing Norwood on your roster a couple years back only to see him turn the occasional infrequent carry into a 70-yard touchdown, usually while on your bench… well, then you should be fully prepared for what Johnson’s rookie campaign will look like.
And while it’s never prudent to invest long-term in a running back with durability concerns, Johnson’s home run potential is so great you’ll be forgiven if you try to stash the small-school speedster on your dynasty roster. Remember, NFL sages thought Tiki Barber or Brian Westbrook would never hold up to a full workload either.