2015 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Duke Johnson

  • Explosive runner
  • Quick and agile
  • Natural receiver
  • Extremely athletic
  • Vision
  • Balance
  • Quick feet; excellent cutting ability
  • Burst to the second level
  • Tough for his size
  • Improved his ability to pick up yards after contact
  • Tough for his size
  • Bails out blockers with ability to make tacklers miss
  • Experienced 3-year starter
  • Upside
  • Special teams ability
  • Toughness; plays banged up

  • Weaknesses:
  • Tough for his size, but not a power back
  • Undersized
  • Durability concerns
  • Needs to improve pass blocking for NFL
  • Could use more beef on his frame to help durability

  • Summary: Johnson was one of the nation’s most explosive backs over the last three years. Despite entering a program that had talent in the backfield, he took carries away from backs who were soon to be drafted into the NFL. The reason for that is Johnson is an explosive runner who is a threat to break off a long gain on any touch.

    Johnson was one of the best freshman in college football in 2012. He led Miami on the ground and racked up a ton of all-purpose yardage. Johnson averaged 6.8 yards per carry while running for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 221 yards and another score. Johnson was phenomenal on special teams, too. He was second in the nation in kick returns with an average of 33 yards per return. The freshman standout actually brought back two kicks for touchdowns.

    In 2013, Johnson totaled 920 yards with six scores (6.3 average) before missing the final five games after breaking his ankle against Florida State. He was playing really well before the injury.

    2014 was Johnson’s best year. He added some bulk before the season, and it allowed him to pick up more yards after contact and power through some tackles. The junior had some huge games to lead Miami to wins over Cincinnati (10-162), Virginia Tech (29-249) and North Carolina (19-177). He also played well in losses to Florida State (27-130) and concluded the year with a tough running performance versus South Carolina (24-132). Johnson averaged 6.8 yards per carry for 1,652 yards with 10 touchdowns. He caught 38 passes for 421 yards and three scores.

    At the Combine, Johnson ran a little slower than expected with a time of 4.54 seconds. He performed well in the field drills.

    For the NFL, Johnson is a future starting running back who can be a three-down player. He should be a feature back who racks up lots of yards on chunk plays. Not only is Johnson explosive, he is very elusive with superb cutting ability, balance and vision to slash his way through defenses. Johnson is tough for his size and can pick up some yards after contact, but he isn’t a real power back.

    Johnson would fit really well on an NFL team that is led by a passing offense. He is an excellent receiver with generally reliable hands and good route-running. Johnson is natural in the open field and is a mismatch weapon against linebackers or safeties in man coverage. Like all college running backs, Johnson will have to improve his pass blocking, but he has the potential to get it done.

    Johnson is a back who could use some protection from injury by having a backup power back to handle short-yardage and heavy run-box situations, but he still is a starting runner who should be counted on to lead a ground offense.

    Sources with some teams feel that Johnson is worthy of going in the late first-round or in the second-round pick. WalterFootball.com knows some teams that have Johnson rated lower as one GM said a few months back they felt that Johnson was a third- or fourth-round guy. However, Johnson finished the year in impressive fashion with a better second half than first half. It would be surprising if the junior is still available at the start of the third round.

    Player Comparison: Giovani Bernard. There are a lot of similarities between Johnson and Bernard. They are both explosive backs who are very shifty and elusive in the open field. Johnson and Bernard can break off long runs at any time while also serving as natural receivers out of the backfield. Bernard (5-9, 208) and Johnson are almost identical in size. Bernard was an early second-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and Johnson could go in the same range.

    NFL Matches: Minnesota, Oakland, Miami, New York Jets, New England, Detroit, San Diego, Buffalo, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville

    There are a lot teams that could use help at running back. The Vikings could be a good fit for Johnson as a potential replacement for Adrian Peterson. Johnson and Jerick McKinnon could give Minnesota a fast backfield.

    The Raiders need another running back since Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden are entering free agency. Latavius Murray has run well for Oakland, but the team could use another back to pair with him.

    Detroit had one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL in 2014 and adding a feature back would make sense. Johnson would be a good long-term replacement for Reggie Bush. Between Bush and Javhid Best, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has proven that he likes shifty speed backs.

    Johnson would make a lot of sense for Miami since that organization needs a feature back. He is a good fit for the Dolphins’ offense, plus is used to playing in the conditions of South Florida. Staying in the AFC East, New England has used a number of backs, but it would make sense to find a stable backfield presence.

    The Jets tried to see if Chris Johnson had anything left, but he’s clearly in decline. New York could use a fast back to pair with Chris Ivory. C.J. Spiller may not be back with Buffalo in 2015, so adding another back could make sense for the Bills. Johnson could be a good fit for the Buffalo’s first selection in the second round.

    The Texans got most of a great season out of Arian Foster in 2014, but could use another running back as the veteran has had injury issues. Houston will probably miss out on a quarterback, so having depth for the rushing attack is mandatory.

    Staying in the AFC South, the Colts need a starting back to replace the disappointing Trent Richardson. Johnson would be a nice scheme fit for Indianapolis. The Jaguars also need a feature back, and Johnson’s receiving ability would make him a good fit in Greg Olson’s West Coast offense.

    San Diego could use a back like Johnson. He would be a good runner and receiver to pair with Philip Rivers. Ryan Mathews has had a lot of injury issues, and the Chargers could use a more reliable runner.


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