Combine height: 5-8 7/8
Combine weight: 209 pounds
Combine 40 time: 4.60 seconds
Johnson’s injury-marred senior season at Oregon included 168 carries for 1,252 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns, with another 75 yards on eight catches. For his career, Johnson totaled 349 carries for 2,433 yards (7.0 yards per carry) and 30 touchdowns; he also caught 36 passes for 303 yards and one touchdown.
Johnson is a bit undersized for the NFL, but he was good enough as a junior to split carries at Oregon with Jonathan Stewart before tearing his ACL midyear. Scouts at the Senior Bowl thought he may be able to pack a few more pounds on his frame to help withstand NFL tacklers, and he also caught their attention with his hard running. The excellent vision and good burst were expected, but Johnson also demonstrated a willingness to run inside and held his own in pass protection. Johnson accelerates quickly and is faster in the open field than a 4.6 40 might suggest. He also has good hands and experience in the return game, both of which were on display during Senior Bowl workouts as well.
Scouts question whether Johnson is strong enough to run inside at the pro level and if he’ll be quick enough to get to the corner against a better caliber of defender. He’ll also have to prove he can make the adjustment from a spread offense to a pro style, though Stewart’s ability to do so should work in his favor. While Johnson did play every game of his senior campaign, he was nagged by shoulder and hip injuries; that, coupled with the ACL tear and his smallish stature, will raise durability red flags with some teams.
Small and quick with receiving and return skills, Johnson has drawn comparisons to fellow Pac-10 backs J.J. Arrington and Justin Forsett. He’s most likely to go early on the second day of the draft, at which point even a team that already has a third-down back or kick returner might find his upside too good to pass up. That said, the short list of teams who might be in the market for such a complementary back includes the Lions (who have two third-round picks), Bengals, Redskins, Cardinals, and Browns (who traded their third-round pick to Dallas and would have to hope he slides a bit).
Johnson seems to be a slower version of Steve Slaton or Maurice Jones-Drew; how much slower now that he’s two years removed from the ACL injury may dictate just how quickly he gets onto the field at the NFL level. While his performance at the Senior Bowl seemed to suggest he’d be capable of handling feature-back duties, his 176 touches as a senior was a career high so there’s no evidence to support his ability to withstand such a workload. Johnson projects as a change-of-pace back who could see some third-down and return work; that may be enough to earn him handcuff status in larger leagues, but aside from insurance it’s difficult to see him with much draft-day fantasy value.
If the comparisons to Arrington hold, Johnson’s long-term fantasy value will come as a PPR back in larger leagues as well as insurance for whomever he’s complementing. But that may be setting sights a little too low; at minimum, Johnson flashed the potential to handle a larger share of the workload, and in the right situation he might end up with the larger share of the backfield touches. If he winds up in that situation for a potent offense such as the Cardinals, his dynasty value would be significantly greater than if he were changing the pace for, say, Kevin Smith in Detroit.