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One of the most exciting backs at the 2015 Senior Bowl was Northern Iowa’s David Johnson.  After watching him practice for three days down in Mobile and then play in the all-star game, I decided DJto review all the games I could find.  The three available games I reviewed were against Southern Illinois, Iowa, and North Dakota State.  If more games become available, I would love to watch more.

RB David Johnson, Northern Iowa, 6′ 2″ 229 lbs.

Cons The runner is quite tall for his position.  This impacts how well he can protect himself taking hits, because the back does not run behind his pads leaving himself open to extra contact.  He also has issues with getting low in the hole and struggled on red zone carries in the Senior Bowl game.  There were some ball security issues that reared their ugly head in some goal line drills too.  His legs do not generate a lot of power with Johnson pulling the Rashard Mendenhall move of turning his back to the defense, while trying to leg press the pile.  It didn’t work with Mendenhall, nor will it work for the rookie.  Johnson struggles, at times, to run inside unless every one of his blockers gets a hat on a hat.  He would be best suited to go to a zone blocking scheme that would negate his lack of leg strength.

Strengths (rushing): Johnson has quick feet and hits the hole hard, squeezing through small openings on the line of scrimmage.  He is an excellent cut back runner, who can reverse his field and explode down the sidelines just when the defense thought they had him contained.  The back has good vision that he uses to read his blockers, busts out a few jump cuts to create separation, keeping his feet chopping and always falling forward.  Johnson likes to run to daylight and has an extra burst in space.  It’s a combination of his good balance, stiff-arms, jukes, and spin moves that make him especially difficult to catch in the open field.  He makes a point to switch the ball into his outside arm,  which makes sense because he likes to go to the corner store for a lot of his carries. The back seems to glide effortlessly in space, using a few shoulder shakes to get linebackers and safeties out of position. When asked, Johnson sealed off a linebacker during a running play, so he might be able to block on reverses and trick plays.

Strengths (passing game):  The young back steps up to pass block, shows effort, but gets knocked back a lot due to his poor pad position.  He needs to get lower at the point of contact and explode his hips to force pass rushers back.  As a receiving threat, Johnson is quite versatile by being able to line up in the slot, split out wide, or as a traditional half back.  He has soft hands with a good catch radius including a beautiful one-handed reception in the middle of the field.  The back can get to the flat in a hurry, run a wheel route, or fly up the middle on a pass pattern.  Johnson destroyed every linebacker I saw try to cover him.  The runner is great at making the first man miss in the open field. He shows great concentration bringing the pigskin in and uses a few double moves while streaking down the field trying to run underneath a pass.  When the back lined up on the outside with a corner back in coverage, Johnson did not fare as well.

Overall thoughts:  Johnson is a talented back, but needs to run more beneath his pads to increase his short yardage acumen.  His vision, burst, and wiggle are good, but not elite.  He is a very dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield and is versatile enough to lineup as an outside receiver.  I project him as a second round fantasy football rookie pick if he goes to a decent situation.  His upside is that of Le’Veon Bell (6′ 1″ 244 lbs., who also ran a bit high in college), but his downside is that of former Titan Chris Brown (6′ 3″ 219 lbs., who was only a starter for two years).

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