I’m a big proponent about context over rankings. What I reported on David Johnson explains why. Note the team choices in the analysis from March-April.
I’ve had my share of rankings successes and failures, but I’ve never been one to get too hooked on the number when I’m not creating a board for a specific team. What’s more important to me is highlighting skills, potential issues, team fit, and that player’s range of realistic possibilities.
David Johnson’s evaluation is a good example of what I’m saying. Read below and you’ll see.
13. David Johnson, Northern Iowa (6-1, 224)
Johnson is one bad ass athlete. He’s six inches taller and 29 pounds heavier than Trey Williams and his speed, agility, and explosion are roughly equal, if not better than the A&M back.
If he was as talented a runner as he is a receiver, he’d be the best back in this class. The tempting thing about Johnson is that he’s close enough to becoming a refined runner that his upside will be difficult to pass up.
His receiving skill is good enough that there has been light discussion about a position change. Johnson’s hand-eye coordination is rare. He wins difficult targets in the air and does so in the face of tight coverage.
Johnson also sets up defenders at the top of the stem. He catches the ball with his hands, on the move, and with his back to the quarterback or the defender.
Although not where he could be, Johnson’s not bad as runner. He displays some press and cut skill, good pad level, high and tight ball security, and quick feet. The moves he has for a man his size are impressive: jump cuts, spins, and lateral cuts.
Unfortunately, he’ll make questionable choices with these moves in the open field. He’ll jump-cut to the incorrect side of the pursuit or attempt a move to elude pursuit when he has the size to earn more yardage. I want to see a more decisive runner who is patient with developing blocks, and not always looking for the cutback when there’s opportunity to use his power and burst in a more focused, committed manner. He’ll second-guess his speed and attempt a cutback when keeping the pads down and driving down hill would have been the more successful choice.
When he chooses size and strength, Johnson can fall through contact and gain extra yards. There’s some natural strength he has to exploit, but he’s not doing so at this point of his development. In the right scenarios, Johnson will display more balance than what I’ve seen from him. Right now, he only earns yards after contact by falling through collisions and not bouncing off them.
Johnson has potential as a pass protector. He moves his feet well, earns position, and delivers his hands to the body of the opponent. His punch needs improvement. He’ll often drop his head into contact rather than uppercut with a punch. He gives up too much leverage this way. His diagnostic skills need refinement, especially when working with his offensive line when the defense runs twists at the line of scrimmage. He’ll see developments with pressure and react to them, but twists and working in tandem with a teammate can get confusing for him. Johnson can also be late when forced to move laterally to a blocking assignment.
As it stands, Johnson is a decent gap runner. If he can improve his patience and decision-making in the open field, he has upside as a starter for a gap-heavy team like the Cardinals or Colts. If Johnson is placed in a zone blocking scheme he’ll need to develop more discipline as a decision maker and refine his press-and-cut concepts to thrive.
Johnson is an instinctive receiver, but he overthinks his job as a runner. He flashes enough good work between the tackles that I believe he’ll develop, but he’s not there yet. If he’s placed in a gap scheme and works out the kinks, he could be a Pro Bowl back. Just remember that vision-eyes-feet issues are difficult to fix.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Johnson is a second or third-round fantasy pick. He’s a worthwhile development project with a role no worse than a receiver from the backfield with excellent big-play ability.
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