Editor's note: Predict the top
ten picks of the NFL Draft for a chance to win FFToday prizes. Our
annual NFL Draft Contest is free to join. The top 20 finishers will
reap the rewards. Enter Now.
As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on April 30,
I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths
and weaknesses of at least the top 15 offensive skill-position prospects
available in this draft.
Duke Johnson will be a matchup nightmare
against just about any linebacker in the open field.
Johnson’s family was forced to live out of their mother’s
car for a short time when he was a child and he lost his father
to ALS in 2008. A five-star recruit and the No. 1 rated running
back prospect according to some recruiting services in the class
of 2012, Johnson proved why he deserved those accolades that fall
when he rushed a freshman program-record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns
en route to becoming the first player in school history to win both
the ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year awards.
Included in his dynamic debut season was a school-record 368 all-purpose
yards (214 return yards) in a loss to Virginia. Johnson began to
catch the eye of the country in 2013, running for 920 yards through
8 ½ games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury against
Florida State. Despite missing his team’s final five games,
he was still selected second-team All-ACC. Johnson put it all together
in his final year, running for 1,652 yards and 10 touchdowns in
2014 to earn All-ACC honors. He needed only three years to become
the school’s all-time leading rusher (3,519), career all-purpose
yardage leader (5,526) and also owns the Hurricanes’ record
for career yards per carry (6.69).
Best Scheme Fit: Zone-running scheme
(especially one that utilizes a lot of outside zone runs).
Creative downhill runner that does a good job at
deciding when to make something out of nothing and when to take
what the defense is giving him; willing to run up the middle
and fights for every yard.
Plants his foot and explodes; not only shows a knack
for feeling the first crease on the first level, but usually
immediately locates the crease at the second level as well.
Excellent lateral agility and changes direction without
losing momentum, frequently making the first man miss; has the
ability to accelerate immediately after stringing moves together.
Plays faster than his time speed (leads draft class
in highest percentage of 10-plus yard runs – 18.7 percent
– and led the nation with 67 scrimmage plays of 10-plus
yards in 2014).
Creates natural separation as a receiver due to quickness
and speed and has lined up all over the field; has reliable
hands, transitions quickly after the catch and adjusts well
to poorly-thrown balls.
Delivers a stiff arm with either hand that is surprising
powerful for a back of his size.
Lacks the power at this point to be considered a
true three-down back, doesn’t break many tackles and gets
tripped up a bit too easily; did improve in these areas in 2014,
Despite good vision (and the ability to anticipate contact
well on outside runs/at second level), he can rush things occasionally
in between the tackles.
Shows willingness and recognition skills in pass protection,
but lack of size and technique makes him below-average in this
Durability is a minor question (history of migraines,
left a 2013 game after taking a knee to the head, 2013 season-ending
Improved ball security in 2014 (three fumbles in 280
touches after losing three in 149 offensive touches in 2013),
but could stand to improve in this area.
Johnson has drawn comparisons to LeSean McCoy and, to be honest,
they may not end up being far off if the Hurricanes’ all-time
leading rusher manages to add more muscle and ultimately proves
to be durable. (I’m not going in that direction with my
comparison because McCoy is in a class of his own among today’s
backs when it comes to start/stop ability.) There is no question
in my mind that Johnson will be a dynamic weapon in the passing
game right away in the NFL as he will be a matchup nightmare against
just about any linebacker in the open field. I also think he is
as good of a bet as any running back in this class to at least
live up to his draft position (assuming mid-to-late second round).
However, whereas I believe Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah –
a similar-style back with similar height/weight measurements –
has a chance to be a featured back at some point early in his
NFL career because he is put together so well, I wonder about
Johnson’s ability to do the same because I fear he is a
bit too slight at the moment. However, all we are talking about
here is the ability to handle a full workload right away (it is
entirely possible that Johnson continues to add power and muscle
this offseason just as he did last offseason). While I think he
has feature-back potential at some point down the road, I believe
it would be ideal for Johnson if lands with a team that uses him
in a Giovani Bernard-like role (150-plus carries, 50-plus catches)
Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and appeared in
USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine in 2010 and
2011. He is also the host of USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff
fantasy football internet chat every Sunday. Doug regularly appears
as a fantasy football analyst on Sirius XM’s “Fantasy
Drive” and for 106.7 The Fan (WJFK – Washington, D.C).
He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
E-mail Doug or follow
him on Twitter.