David Johnson represents one of the most interesting prospects in the NFL draft. Johnson hails from Northern Iowa, a small D-I school whose most famous alumni in the NFL are Brad Meester (former center for the Jaguars) and NFL Media's own Kurt Warner. Yet, despite the small school pedigree, Johnson boasts big-time measurables, with a 41.5-inch vertical jump, 127-inch broad jump, 6.82-second three-cone and a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. So, will these raw physical attributes help Johnson make the jump from small school to the big leagues? I dove into the tape to find out.
» Fantastic hands
» Versatile, can line up all over the field
» Good speed when he has time to accelerate
» Ideal size/athleticism
Johnson's best attributes, despite his crazy combine measurables, are his hands and skills out of the backfield. Johnson is a natural pass-catcher and shows some moxie when it comes to running routes. He can do so out of the backfield or lined up as a wide receiver. He racked up over 200 receiving yards against Iowa last year alone.
When he has a hole to hit (or is already in space out of the backfield), Johnson shows impressive speed and can cover a lot of ground quickly. He's also able to use a nice little jump cut to find his way through the line of scrimmage, but that doesn't work all of the time.
» Falls forward, but doesn't finish runs well
» Rarely hits the hole with real speed or power
» Seems to almost avoid contact at times.
» Lacked short range quickness behind the line
Given Johnson's athletic profile, I was a bit disappointed to not see that explosion show up more on tape. He doesn't play as fast or strong as his numbers would indicate. Many were surprised by Melvin Gordon's 4.50-second 40-yard dash given how quick he looks on the field. On the flip side, I was surprised Johnson ran a 4.50 after watching how slow he looked at times out of the backfield.
Scouts have questioned Johnson's fire on the playing field, and I'd have to agree. He seems to shy away from contact and more physical plays, despite having the body to deliver more punishment than he'd receive. In addition, I had to wonder if Johnson might be more suited to run out of a traditional backfield, instead of always getting his hand offs from the shotgun. If Johnson had time to build up speed coming out of the I-formation or a single-back set, he might be able to employ a little bit more of his natural speed and athleticism as he hits the hole.
Ideal NFL fantasy fits
Johnson has the look of a third-down back to start his NFL career, and his natural hands would be a wonderful addition to Tom Brady's passing attack to replace the production of the departed Shane Vereen. Likewise, his skills out of the backfield could benefit the Indy offense while he spells Frank Gore on third downs, and hopefully learns from him in the meeting rooms. Some pundits have compared Johnson to Matt Forte, so it could make sense for Chicago to grab Johnson in the middle rounds as a potential replacement for their talented feature back.
Early fantasy draft projection
Depending on where he lands, Johnson could have an immediate impact as an RB3 or RB4 in PPR formats. He's also a decent mid-round option in dynasty formats, and if his skills in getting through the hole can improve he could blossom into a three-down, feature back. For now though, Johnson will likely be a name that shouldn't be called on draft day in standard leagues.