Running backs are becoming less and less prevalent in the first round of the NFL draft. Bishop Sankey was the first RB off the board last year, and wasn’t selected until pick number 54. Gio Bernard was first in 2013, selected with pick number 37. Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and David Wilson were the last RBs taken in round one from the 2012 draft. Richardson severely under performed for a number three overall pick. Martin had an electrifying rookie season, but regressed of late. Wilson’s NFL career is over after suffering a neck injury, and doctors telling him he should avoid the type of contact NFL players endure.
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Whether it’s the high injury risk, the short shelf life, or the more important immediate positional needs, running backs are not high on every team’s wish list anymore. But it’s odd because they are still such lethal weapons in the game if you can nab a good one. They get you the tough yards, dual purpose backs are an extension of the run game via short passing, and they put the game away when you are trying to kill the clock, holding a slim lead late in games.
In the Ravens case, signing and utilizing a guy properly like Justin Forsett helped Joe Flacco with his play action, and his deep ball accuracy off of it. A solid run game opens up more options in the passing game. Look at how poorly the run game was used in 2013, and the affect it had on Flacco.
In the 2015 draft, Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley are slated to be first round picks in a pretty deep draft class for running backs. Would they fall to #26 where the Ravens are picking? It’s possible. But the Ravens are always looking for value. If they see someone with the same potential as Gordon or Gurley that could be had in later rounds, they will wait.
David Johnson is a talented back, who showed very well at the combine this past weekend, who could be had in the middle rounds of the draft. He posted a quicker 40 time than Gordon, and Ameer Abdullah (potential second round pick), with a 4.50 mark. Strong, putting up 25 reps in the bench press for fourth best of the RBs. Johnson was second only to Abdullah in the vertical, broad jump, three cone drill, and 60 yard shuttle.
Johnson was the most impressive looking back at the Senior Bowl, scoring a 19-yard rushing touchdown on his first touch of the day. The run showed some great vision, cut back ability, speed out of the cut, determination, strength. A thing of beauty. He is the primary focus of the Northern Iowa offense which, oh by the way, runs a zone blocking scheme that Ravens offensive coordinator, Mark Trestman, will carry over from Gary Kubiak’s installation a year ago. Let’s go to the tape.
I decided to start with a look at his game against Iowa. In the Missouri Valley Conference, the competition is not as good. So we looked at the tape against the best defense he would face. Johnson had a decent day. Just five catches for…208 yards!! And a TD. Take a look.
Early in the game, a nice catch and run out of the backfield. Johnson proves tough to bring down, running through arm tackles.
Another catch and run. Despite a lot of green ahead, he still makes two DBs miss, and gets a nice block, in order to pick up about an extra 30 yards.
Yet another simple catch and run, showing off the speed to take it all the way.
In this game against Southern Illinois, Johnson had a nice showing in particular here, showing of his cutback ability. Without hesitation, changes direction and commits to it.
Hands. What a grab
Another example of Johnson cutback ability, and vision as he goes for the score. That is an impressive jump cut. No doubt he was almost the combine leader in vertical and broad jump.
Here is Johnson against the perennial best team in FCS football, North Dakota State. A long TD run featuring a nice cutback, stiff arm, and speed.
Another example of Jonhson running through arm tackles.
In that same game against Iowa from above, we didn’t see much success running the football. 13 carries for 34 yards. A long of eight yards. Here are a couple other areas where Johnson could use improvement.
Here, Johnson simply is trying to do too much. Bounce this outside wher you have two blockers and all that green grass. If committed to the middle, lower your pads and pound it. Just too fancy at times.
Here is Johnson looking too upright. He didn’t bounce this outside, not much drive. Just didn’t really show the patience to check his other options. Just sort of falls into it.
– Great speed/size combination
– Experience in running in a zone blocking scheme
– Runs through arm tackles
– Lines up as a receiver
– Upright runner
– Won’t use his size as a wrecking ball enough
– Running between the tackles
– Not enough blocking duties, split out a lot
Summary: In 2013 He rushed for 199 yards on 23 carries against Iowa State. His 4 touchdowns in that game led the FCS’ Northern Iowa to the win. In 2012 he caught four balls for 107 yards and two TDs against the #12 ranked Wisconsin Badgers, and nearly led them to a huge upset, losing in the end 26-21. In limited work as a freshman in 2011, he posted an 80 yard TD catch and run against once again, Iowa State. The point is, the tougher the challenge, the better David Johnson plays. He rose to the occasion then, he rose to the occasion at the Senior Bowl, and he continued to turn heads at the combine. Pressure does not phase David Johnson, and competition is something he thrives on.
He doesn’t look like a workhorse kind of back. He won’t be carrying the ball well over 300 times like DeMarco Murray. But Johnson could be a 100 catch a year back like Matt Forte. Conveniently, the guy that architected Matt Forte’s 100 catch season is now right here in Baltimore, Mark Trestman.
Johnson would be a great fit in this Ravens offense. Trestman already plays to his strengths. If Justin Forsett is re-signed, he would be a great mentor to Johnson to break into the NFL, teaching him the intricacies of running the ball, and maybe correct some of those mistakes he’s made before when he runs between the tackles. With his size, Johnson should be able to pound the rock up the gut instead af dancing.
Simply put, David Johnson isn’t the best player, but he might be the right player, and great value in the mid rounds.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]