Miami running back Duke Johnson's name isn't resonating with Heisman Trophy pundits, the way Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah is, nor is he considered most likely to snap the position's two-year absence from the first round of the NFL draft, the way Georgia's Todd Gurley is.
But the Hurricanes star, already over 1,000 yards with more than a month to go, is nevertheless drawing the sort of praise that suggests he's got an awfully promising career ahead. Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville told Sports Illustrated's Inside Read that Johnson's style reminds him of two of the greatest backs to ever play the game -- Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
"He kind of reminds me of Walter Payton, where he can stop and go sideways," Tuberville said. "One of those Barry Sanders-type of guys that can accelerate, hit a hole fast and change directions."
Against the Bearcats, Johnson had his best per-carry average of the season, 16.2 yards, in shredding Tuberville's defense with 10 carries for 162 yards. In his next outing, Johnson posted his best game of the season (29 carries, 249 yards) against Virginia Tech, prompting longtime Hokies coach Frank Beamer to say Johnson is among the best backs he has ever seen. Here is a taste of what motivated Beamer's praise:
The Hurricanes' explosive threat has rushed for 100-plus yards in four consecutive games, and is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield, as well. Nebraska learned that in week four, allowing Johnson five catches for 84 yards.
Johnson, for his part, isn't even sure he'll be part of the 2015 draft. His mother, Johnson says, will make the final determination on that for the junior. At 5-9, 206 pounds, he's not going to overwhelm NFL scouts with his size.
But then again, Payton and Sanders never needed much size, either.