Duke Johnson, Running Back
Height: 5090 - Listed
Weight: 206 - Listed
Games watched: vs Virginia (2012), vs FAU (2013), vs Georgia Tech (2013)
Strengths: Johnson, a Junior, has the kind of frame you really like to see out of a back; as he's compact and his height gives him natural leverage and pad level when running the football. His girth is solid; he's carrying some solid weight on his frame that should help him endure regular hits and grind out yardage between the tackles. Duke Johnson burst onto the scene in 2012 as a true freshman; rushing for a Hurricanes record 947 yards as a freshman and 10 touchdowns to go along with it. I really liked that Johnson added 8-10 pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons and seemed to retain most of his explosiveness. Johnson, for not being a power back, manages to collect quite a bit of yardage after contact thanks to the previously mentioned low pad level/center of gravity and some really persistent leg drive. Also displays the kind of vision (both in the open field and behind the line of scrimmage) that allows him to brace, adjust and diminish hits coming at him. And that vision carries over to zone running schemes as well.
At the snap of the football, the offensive line shifts to the right; simply engaging in the first defender to show their face. Johnson is very patient in the backfield, stringing out this stretch run before he eyes a lane to shoot through. Johnson effectively sticks his foot in the ground, shifts upfield and bursts onto the second level. You can see at the end of the run exactly what I had previously mentioned regarding his leg drive and producing yards after contact. This is an all around good play and shows his versatility as a runner. But Johnson isn't necessarily a grind it out type of back; he's actually more prone for home run than he is 6-7 yards a pop.
Another stretch play and again Johnson picks his spot attacking the LOS. From the back end angle of this run; he's got a sizable hole to run through until he hits the second level; where a defender is on the ground and scrambling to his feet. Johnson shows off the natural play making ability that has made him so popular for the Hurricanes; effortlessly leaping over the top and from there you see the burst to outrun the angle the Safety has coming from the middle of the field for a long touchdown run vs. FAU.
Johnson hasn't shown a ton of efficiency as an all around back since the start of 2013; he's had just 7 receptions out of the backfield (although he did have 27 as a freshman in 2012) but Johnson does show a willingness to contribute and play physically as a pass protector.
Here he comes across the set to help pick up a block on current San Diego Charger Jeremiah Attaochu and actually jolts him really well as Attaochu tries to shoot inside of the RT. Johnson contributed in this facet a number of times against Georgia Tech and notably getting a piece of Attaochu. It's certainly not his biggest strength coming into 2014 but the effort level is there and the physicality appears to be as well.
Weaknesses: Johnson comes into 2014 with the obvious questions about his health; having had his 2013 season ended prematurely with a nasty ankle break against Florida State. Fortunately he appears to be back to 100% with a solid start to this season; logging at least 90 yards in all 3 of Miami's contests. But questions can also be asked about his ability to carry a workload; Johnson has yet to eclipse 145 carries or 160 touches from scrimmage. While the day and age of bell cow backs logging 400+ carries appear to be behind us for the time being; Johnson's ability to project as a feature back and handle that load will greatly affect his stock.
In regard to his on the field resume; as previously mentioned Johnson hasn't been particularly active in the passing game recently, just 7 of his last 195 touches (back to the beginning of 2013) have been receptions.
And it's also worth noting that despite how well Johnson does coming down hill attacking tacklers, he's frustratingly prone to getting tripped up by the smallest contact down around his feet.
This had the potential to be a touchdown for the Hurricanes; as Johnson sees and shifts to the boundary there's virtually no one in his way of getting the corner. However a Georgia Tech defender comes through the initial hole and throws himself down at Johnson's feet; forcing him to stumble and eventually drop for no gain. There were several plays like this were traffic around his feet tripped him up.
Johnson also appears to have some shaky ball security; he put the ball on the turf several times in watching him as well. That's a weakness that is easily fixed; but not one that coaches will stand for very long if it continues.
Recap: Overall, Duke Johnson is a very talented runner. He has great vision, a solid build, an assertive (yet patient) attitude carrying the ball and has the kind of explosion to pop a run off for a large gain. What I'd like to see is Johnson stay healthy for 2014 and begin to blossom a bit more as an overall player at the position (as well as take care of the football). Johnson's running abilities are obvious; but I need to see him get back to being involved in all facets and prove he's the kind of talent that should be given consideration to being a centerpiece of a NFL ground attack.