Dynasty Draft Profile: Duke Johnson
March 24, 2015 | Chad Scott
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DNP – did not participate due to injury
Duke Johnson stands atop the Miami Hurricane’s career rushing and all-purpose yards lists and is on his way to the NFL. Impressive when you consider the running backs Miami has produced over the years – Lamar Miller, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James and Frank Gore among many others.
As a five-star high school athlete, Johnson was deemed the #1 high school running back by Rivals.com – and top 30 overall. He started five games as a true freshman and totaled 2,080 all-purpose yards – second-most in Miami history.
After missing the final five games in 2013 with a broken ankle, Johnson came back in a huge way, racking up 2,000 yards combined rushing and receiving yards in 2014 and decided to take his talents out of South Beach and into the NFL.
Compared by some to Shane Vereen or C.J. Spiller, Johnson is viewed more like a third down back than he is bell cow. The comparisons make total sense considering his svelte-ish build and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a career RBBC kind of guy.
But every so often, these small – but quick backs – come into the league and flourish. Whether it be for a season or two is insignificant. We can discuss buy or sell at a later date.
Johnson will host his Pro Day on April 1 and if he’s able to run the 20YSS and 3Cone as well as his tape suggests, he’ll be placed in my Ameer Abdullah tier – perhaps in my top-10 overall. *gasps*
To be completely honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of Johnson prior to this. Miami was seemingly always on ESPN whenever I flipped through the channels and the bits and pieces I saw didn’t impress me. After setting my 6-pack of Deschutes Chainbreaker IPA beside me, I was ready for my confirmation. Whether it be my blood-alcohol level or complete exhaustion from my actual job as a nurse, I slowly began changing my stance.
Johnson’s best attribute is his willingness to commit to his decision. A lot of college running backs with Johnson’s ability to elude tacklers would have tried bouncing that run outside at some point. Johnson makes his decision and trusts it for a nice gain:
Johnson’s ability to plant his foot and explode up field is impressive. To piggyback off the first observation, Johnson is one of – if not the – most decisive runners in this class. He trusts his instincts and ability and takes what the defense gives him. More importantly, gains positive yardage when inside the 20-yard line:
Here again, Johnson plants and explodes up field for a huge gain:
Johnson may not have the best hands in this class, but he’s no slouch, either. Thanks to my pal, Rich Hribar, The Duke was #6 in the country in target percentage for all running backs (15.6% of Miami’s targets) with a total of 58 targets. He caught 38 of those targets, which was good for #10 in the nation. Here, Johnson flashes big play catching ability:
While Johnson makes a nice play on the ball, it’s what he can do with a pass while in space that can devastate a defense. Lining up behind the quarterback or in the slot doesn’t matter with Johnson. He looks comfortable enough in both roles and that’s where I saw a lot of Vereen in him.
I don’t condone this type of running at the NFL level (rarely does it ever work), but I’m obsessed with these draftbreakdown GIFs and was five beers in… Johnson shows off great escapability with change of direction quickness:
Now that the love fest is over, the main concern(s) with Johnson are durability and size.
Sure, he’s 5-foot-9 and aided Frodo on his quest to destroy The Ring, but Johnson packs some mass inside that hobbit-like frame. Spiller (200lbs) and Vereen (205lbs) are both around 70-71 inches in height. I believe Johnson’s 205lbs at just 69 inches should be viewed as more of a strength than a weakness. I like to think Johnson is more like a taller Maurice Jones-Drew in that vein – compact and will probably be more like 210-212lbs once all growsed up (Sorry, Swingers is playing as I type this).
While I don’t necessarily agree his size makes him a durability concern, the manner in which he plays does. I LOVE watching running backs play with reckless abandon, but I winced at each big hit Johnson absorbed – and there were a lot.
Here, Johnson fights for tough yardage with no regard for his body. Just gets the job done on this fourth-and-one run play:
Like most college running backs, Johnson is less than effective in pass protection. Too many times Johnson didn’t seem willing to take on his assignment. Whether it was lazy attempts at chop blocking or glancing off incoming defenders, he doesn’t display the same type of decision making he does when the ball is in his hands. This isn’t the end of the world by any means, but it’s a major facet to any NFL running back’s game.
Lastly, Johnson as a tendency to swing the ball away from his body like Lesean McCoy, leading to some costly fumbles in his career (seven lost). Nothing a little savvy advice from Tiki Barber can’t cure…
It’s important to note Johnson only topped 200+ touches in a season just once in his career at Miami. While some might believe this has saved his body for the next level, the main concern would be can his body endure that type of workload over multiple seasons.
Overall, I think Johnson is going to dish out some decent equity given his current sticker price. Over at DLF, my good buddy, Scott Fish, has been running rookie ADP mock drafts and Johnson is currently around the 1.11 slot. I think that’s about right until we have more data (Pro Day, team drafted, etc) and would be more than happy to grab him considering that’s the runner-up spot from the previous season.
Just so happens Duke is my favourite future sell after he shreds the NFL in year one. #AllTheHotTakes