Dynasty Draft Profile: David Johnson
March 2, 2015 | Chad Scott
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I always gravitate toward small-school prospects when examining the running back position. Last year, two Faked Goods Podcast favorites were Jerick McKinnon (Rich) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (me). Both were cheap in rookie drafts, landed in favorable situations (due to off the field issues to their teams’ starter) but, unfortunately, both ended their rookie campaigns on the IR.
This year’s running back crop is deeper and more talented than last year’s making David Johnson a potential steal in 2015.
Johnson played his college ball at Northern Iowa University and holds the school records for all-purpose yards, career all-purpose yards per game, average yards per kick return and all-purpose yards in a season. In addition to the skills and production in and out of the backfield, Johnson can hurt you as a kick returner. As a fifth-year senior, Johnson returned 12 kickoffs for 438 yards (36.5 avg/yds) and one touchdown.
He parlayed his stellar senior season into an invite to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine.
Johnson began ‘turning a lot of heads’ during Senior Bowl week and was named the top running back – an award voted on by coaches for best practice performances. Fresh off receiving the award, Johnson scored the game’s first touchdown from 19 yards out, finishing the game with a line of 10 attempt/43 yards/1 TD; one reception/16 yards and chipped in another 82 yards on three kick returns.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the behemoth running back heading into the combine, yet he continued to impress registering top five running back times in the 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill (#13 in the 20 yard shuttle).
Versatility is what stands out to me when watching Johnson play. Not only can he run the ball and return kicks effectively, but his receiving skills are what separates him from others in this class.
He has soft, natural hands and his ability to separate himself from coverage is impressive. He’s a true mismatch for linebackers and sells his routes beautifully. Take a look at what he did to Iowa last season:
Nice catch and run Iowa
This one-handed catch was against lesser competition, but the degree of difficulty is certainly there:
In today’s NFL, especially fantasy, you want a running back who doesn’t come off the field on third downs. Pass catching and pass blocking ability is a must for nearly every running back I want rostered on my teams and Johnson has been compared to a bigger/stronger Charles Sims.
As a runner, Johnson demonstrates good vision and big-time agility/burst for a man of his stature. The jump-cut is to Johnson as the spin move is to Eddie Lacy.
In college, Johnson played in traditional and zone-read-option schemes. I believe a player of his caliber and skill set is best utilized in a zone run blocking scheme because of his ability to make a cut and explode north-south. Once Johnson gets behind the defense, he’s difficult to catch and/or bring down.
It’s not all rainbows and pixie dust farts as Johnson will be 24 years old this December. That gives Johnson just four prime running back years, which is a tad concerning. And while he is a bigger running back, he has a tendency to run tall or upright and doesn’t drop his pad level on contact as much as I’d like to see, making him susceptible to bigger hits and/or injury. He’s not necessarily a ‘power back’ despite his size. Even though his agility is a strength, I can see it becoming a weakness if he doesn’t mix up power at the next level. He is more than capable of showing great physical characteristics you’d want to see in a back of his ilk, but doesn’t always demonstrate it.
In dynasty, Johnson will most likely be off the draft board in the mid-late second round. In a class with names like Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi and others, he will be more than welcomed to join my squad at that price tag.
Because he doesn’t bring the name notoriety the others do, it will be important to keep tabs on when Johnson is drafted. Like it or not, draft equity plays a huge role when filtering out those who will get an opportunity or not. As a projected second-third rounder, according to CBS, I doubt there’s anything to worry about.
But it’s the NFL – where none of us know anything.
Andre Ellington was, perhaps, one of the (luckiest) winners after the NFL draft. The Cardinals needed to add another running back to compliment – maybe succeed – Ellington, and they decided Johnson was their man in the third round (#86 overall). The draft pick confused me and soured me a bit on Johnson’s NFL prospects only because he Johnson is a bigger clone of Ellington with less physicality. As mentioned above and on the Faked Goods Podcast, Johnson is still learning the position. Running inside the tackles isn’t his bag. It’s fair to think the Arizona scouting department saw Johnson and his build as a potential goal line back who happens to have outstanding hands. While I believe Johnson has some of the better hands in the class, I don’t see him being a reliable back between the tackles.
What Johnson does have going for him is Arians’ aerial attack. The Cardinals’ quartet of quarterbacks targeted the running backs nearly 20% of their total pass attempts, but that’s what’s puzzling. THAT’S what Ellington does (5.2 targets per game). Unless they plan to use Johnson packages outside of running back, I don’t see where the equity is to be had given his current ADP of 2.04. His current ADP makes sense without Ellington ahead of him, but assuming Ellington stays healthy, I’m giving Johnson the nah wave.