The Detroit Lions had one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL last year. According to Football Outsiders, their rushing offense was ranked 29th in terms of efficiency. The once dynamic duo of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell combined for a total of 1,157 yards, 3.9 yards per carry and nine touchdowns. Obviously, you can't put all of the blame on their shoulders. Running behind a depleted offensive line certainly isn't a great situation, but I believe the Lions should definitely look to improve the position through the NFL Draft (especially when you consider the options in free agency).
This year's running back class is absolutely loaded with talent compared to previous years. In a conference call earlier this year, ESPN analyst Todd McShay gave a list of 12 names that could be selected in the first three or four rounds. Realistically, I think it's closer to about seven or eight names, but you get the point. A few of my favorite prospects who may be available for the Lions in the second or third round are Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson and Jay Ajayi. I firmly believe that selecting a running back in the first round is a bad idea. John Owning over at Football Insiders does a great job of explaining how I feel about this subject, and also does a spectacular job of profiling Tevin Coleman. So today, I'll focus on Miami RB Duke Johnson.
When I watch Duke Johnson on tape, I see a guy who is playing at a completely different speed than everyone else. To call him fast would be a slight understatement. As a freshman and a sophomore, Johnson used his speed advantage to consistently bounce to the outside and go for the home-run play. While this may have worked for the most part, it's not exactly what teams are looking for at the next level. In 2014, he added some muscle and became more patient as a runner. By combining his elite speed with his improved field vision, Johnson was able to shred opposing defenses for a conference-leading 2,073 yards from scrimmage.
Vision & Speed
This play is absolutely filthy. Watch as Johnson follows the pulling right guard (No. 63) and sets his blocks up perfectly. Once he finds daylight, you have to pray and hope he trips over his shoelaces, because there is no catching Duke Johnson.
I've seen a ton of different comparisons to Johnson. Among those comparisons are Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Giovani Bernard and, most often, LeSean McCoy. Pretty good company if you ask me. While I don't necessarily agree with the McCoy comparison, he does share the ability with McCoy to cut on a dime.
In the play above, Miami calls an inside zone to the right on first-and-10. Once Johnson finds his hole, he plants his outside foot into the ground and cuts upfield to burst through for a 28-yard gain. There are few running backs who can maintain their speed when consistently changing directions. Duke Johnson is one of them.
Here is another example of
Juke Duke Johnson showing off his ability to cut on a dime. He completely embarrasses the Duke nickelback (No. 16) and even puts his underrated stiff arm on display. It goes without saying that Johnson is extremely tough to bring down in the open field.
Receiver in the Backfield
Not only is Duke Johnson a talented runner, but he also made some huge plays in the passing game for the Hurricanes. Miami used him as a receiver on a variety of plays.
Johnson was most effective running wheel routes for Miami. Matching him up with a defensive lineman is completely unfair, especially when he makes an unbelievable catch like this. Luckily, Virginia Tech wouldn't make the same mistake twi--
Oh what the hell.
There isn't much not to like about Duke Johnson. Like most running back prospects, I would question his ability to block in pass protection. He isn't much of a willing blocker, and he tends to move backward and catch the defender or try to cut block. He also lacks the size and strength to be a three-down back in the NFL. I wouldn't advise throwing him on the field for short-yardage situations.
Johnson suffered a broken right ankle and missed the final five games of the 2013 season. In 2014, he tweaked that same ankle, though it was much less severe. This shouldn't be a massive concern, but I would expect teams to focus on this in their medical reports.
How He Fits
Duke Johnson can do it all. He can run, catch, throw (?!) and return. I expect him to get selected in the second or third round somewhere, but an impressive showing at the NFL Combine may change that. The Lions are still aching to have a player who can take it to the house on any given play, and Duke Johnson can provide that for them.
We have over three months to go until the draft begins, and teams haven't even begun to cut players or sign free agents yet. Adding a guy like Duke Johnson really all depends on what the Lions decide to do with Reggie Bush. If Bush stays with the team, I have a hard time seeing how Johnson gets any playing time unless he fills in for Theo Riddick's role. He would immediately be the best pure runner in the Lions' backfield, but the offense's stubbornness to involve Bush could prove to be too much for him to overcome. Regardless, Detroit needs to add more talent to the RB position, and Duke Johnson is one of the most talented RBs in this year's class.
Also, since I like you guys so much, here is a bonus GIF:
2015 NFL Draft profiles: OT T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave any suggestions of prospects you would like to be profiled in the comments below.