Chris Johnson (RB)
Few teams in the collegiate or professional ranks have such an explosive and versatile weapon as the Pirates boast with Chris Johnson. Fully recovered from turf toe that hampered him in 2006 and neck surgery during the 2007 off-season, Johnson established himself as the premier all-purpose back in the NCAA Division 1-A ranks during his final campaign.
At Olympia High School, Johnson earned All-Orange County honors as a senior and was selected the Most Valuable Player for his performance in the Orange County All-Star Game. He was rated among the top 100 players in state of Florida by Super Prep, as he scored eight touchdowns during his final campaign, despite missing four contests with an injury.
As a junior, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards. A standout weight lifter, he boasted the top power numbers among the team's skill position players with a 265-pound power clean-lift and a 315-pound bench-press. Johnson also competed in track. He was timed at 10.38 seconds in the 100-meter sprint and ran the anchor leg on the fastest 4x100 relay team in the nation that won Golden South and Golden West national titles.
Johnson proved to be a dangerous kickoff returner as a true freshman in 2004 at East Carolina, where he was originally signed as a wide receiver. He gained 765 yards on 37 attempts (20.7 avg) and made a solo tackle on special teams. He started seven of 11 games at tailback, leading the team with 561 yards and five touchdowns on 134 carries (4.2 avg). He caught 32 passes, second-best on the team, for 236 yards (7.4 avg) and two scores, totaling 42 points for the year.
Johnson ranked fourth in Conference USA and 24th nationally with 1,562 all-purpose yards, an average of 142.0 yards per game. For those efforts, he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman squad as a running back and kickoff return specialist. He was also named the team's Outstanding Newcomer-of-the-Year.
During his sophomore campaign, Johnson started all 11 games, leading the team with 176 rushes for 684 yards (3.9 avg) and six touchdowns. He grabbed 35 passes for 356 yards (10.2 avg) and two scores. His 67 receptions during his first two seasons set the school career-record for running backs. He returned 21 kickoffs for 459 yards (21.9 avg), scored 48 points and ranked second in the Conference USA ranks with an average of 136.27 all-purpose yards per game in 2005.
Listed on numerous preseason All-Conference USA first-team squads, Johnson was limited to five starting assignments, seeing limited action in seven other games during the 2006 season due to turf toe and also had neck surgery in the off-season that kept him out of spring drills. He still finished second on the team with 314 yards and four touchdowns on 78 carries (4.0 avg) while starting four times at tailback. He started the season finale at flanker, coming up with 21 catches for 176 yards (8.4 avg). He ranked third in the conference with a 22.95-yard average on 21 kickoff returns for 482 yards and a touchdown. He scored 30 points, made one solo tackle and averaged 81.0 all-purpose yards per game.
In 2007, Johnson established a new Conference USA record with an average of 227.69 all-purpose yards per game. That figure led the nation, and he was 24th with 109.5 rushing yards per game. He became the 24th player in Division 1-A history to amass more than 6,000 all-purpose yards in a career.
In 47 games at East Carolina, Johnson started 34 times at tailback and twice at receiver (vs. Wake Forest in 2004 and South Florida in 2006). He became the 11th player in school annals to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a career, amassing 2,982 yards with 32 touchdowns on 624 attempts (4.8 avg). He holds the school career record for running backs with 125 receptions for 1,296 yards (10.4 avg) and 10 scores.
Johnson holds the school career record with 2,715 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 115 kickoff returns (23.6 avg). He completed two pass attempts for no gain and recorded two solo tackles. His 264 points scored ranks second on ECU's all-time record list. He touched the ball 864 times, becoming the first player in school annals to amass more than 5,000 all-purpose yards in a career, totaling 6,993 yards.
Attended Olympia (Orlando, Fla.) High School, playing football for head coach Mike Cullison...Johnson earned All-Orange County honors as a senior and was selected the Most Valuable Player for his performance in the Orange County All-Star Game...Rated among the top 100 players in state of Florida by Super Prep, as he scored eight touchdowns during his final campaign, despite missing four contests with an injury...As a junior, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards...A standout weight lifter, he boasted the top power numbers among the team's skill position players with a 265-pound power clean-lift and a 315-pound bench-press...Also competed in track...Was timed at 10.38 in the 100-meter sprint and ran the anchor leg on the fastest 4x100 relay team in the nation that won Golden South and Golden West national titles.
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Positives: Has a compact frame with good overall muscle tone, thick chest, broad shoulders, tapered thighs and legs and room on his frame to carry at least another 10 pounds of bulk without having it affect his explosive quickness...Efficient route runner whose speed makes him a valid deep threat when lining up wide...Shows good athletic agility and vision, doing a nice job of planting and driving to reach the cutback lanes, showing excellent lateral movement and explosion...Has a superb vertical burst, staying low in his pads while showing crisp hip snap with his lateral change of direction...Patient enough to allow blocks to setup, whether carrying or returning the ball...Smart football player with good football intelligence and is effective at picking up the blitz and stunt...Shows good peripheral vision to locate even the smallest of creases and is sudden running through the holes...Knows the offense well and is capable of playing either as a receiver or halfback...Has excellent work habits and is the type that approaches practices much like a game (all business on the field)...Is more of a leader by example type than a rah-rah one, but he is good at mentoring the younger players...Tough inside runner with the leg drive and power to get physical with defenders in attempts to break tackles, despite a lack of ideal size...Takes well to hard coaching...Very decisive in his moves and has a very good feel for the cutback lanes...Has that second gear and explosion needed to accelerate vertically off cuts...Runs behind his pads with good instincts, doing a nice job of driving and spinning to get extra yards after initial contact...Runs behind pads well and has more than enough speed and quickness to reach the corner...Has good vision with quick plant and drive agility when redirecting and sets up the defender well with his stop-and-go action...The thing you notice on film is his impressive athleticism and courage, as he will not hesitate to leap over the tackler, keeping his balance while moving forward, thanks to good body lean...Does a good job of securing the ball before heading upfield...Has natural hands and good extension to catch the ball outside his framework...Used mostly on shallow crossing routes, sideline take-offs and out routes, but could possibly shift to receiver at the next level due to his explosive acceleration and ability to separate after the catch...Demonstrates good running ability on kickoff returns, as he will follow his blocks well...Has the quickness and burst in and out of his cuts to take the ball long distances, whether running, returning or catching the ball...Prior to his senior year, Johnson was considered a marginal space blocker, as he sometimes over-extended or lunged at the defender with his head down, resulting in missed blocks. But as a senior, he showed much better hand placement and punch, doing a nice job of locating the blitz and using his hands to lock on and sustain...Has also become a proficient cut blocker, taking good angles to locate and neutralize second level defenders.
Negatives: Durability might be a concern with his lack of ideal size, but he shows good power and leg drive to break tackles and is not a liability taking the ball up the middle... Showed inconsistent leg churn as a runner in 2006, but it was likely due to his turf toe injury, as he ran at a lower pad level and with crisper cuts during his senior year... Needs to work on his blocking technique, as he lacks good hand placement to lock on and sustain...Shows the ability to take the plays from the chalkboard to the playing field, but had some academic struggles...When he keeps his pad level down running with the ball, he can break tackles, but when he gets too tall in his pads, he loses some of his leg drive and can be contained running between the tackles...Has shown good ball security, but has smaller-than-ideal hands (7 1/4-inches).
Compares To: DAVE MEGGETT-ex-New York Giants/New England...Some compare him to Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, but even though the Eagles runner has fine speed, he lacks that explosive second gear Johnson possesses. With his injury woes behind them, Johnson finally came into his own as a senior, as he learned to vary his speed and showed much better patience waiting for blocks to develop. He is much stronger than his size indicates, but with his outstanding timed speed he is a versatile threat who is more than capable of handling kickoff duties. With his suddenness off the line of scrimmage and hand extension ability, he also can line wide in passing situations.
2006: Sat out spring drills to recover from neck surgery...Suffered a left big toe injury (turf toe) vs. Memphis (9/16), limiting his playing time the rest of the season and forced him to sit out the Virginia game (10/07).
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