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Film Room: Kerryon Johnson shines in preseason opener

The rookie running back dazzled in his first taste on NFL action.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kerryon Johnson was the most exciting pick the Detroit Lions made in the 2018 NFL draft. The Auburn product was selected in the second round and is one of the players tasked with fixing the Lions’ dismal run game. Last Friday’s preseason opener was his first chance to show off his talent at the NFL level and he managed to shine.

The running back’s most exciting run of the night was called back due to a holding call but it showed the open field running ability that has the Lions so excited for him.

Johnson finds space open up on the left edge and bursts through the gap. He bolts downfield and gets to the secondary with ease. The running back uses a quick change of speed to get away from the first tackler, spins away from the second and makes a change of direction to the opposite sideline to avoid a third. He shows off his crafty open field running where he creatively uses changes of speed, fancy footwork and a variety of agile moves to deke and dodge around defenders. The rookie has great vision in the open field and has the mental ability to quickly process and react to what is happening in front of him.

His vision and high football IQ also are his best traits when running between the tackles.

This was Johnson’s first NFL carry and he took it for 12 yards. The Raiders defense was surrendering space on third-and-long, and Detroit tried to punish them with a draw play. Johnson was quickly able to get past the first level before running into traffic at the second level. He got caught between two blockers so he stopped, used his hand as a guide, and slipped through the small space that opened up between them. His patience and vision were highly touted at Auburn, and it didn’t take him any time to show why.

While his route running needs some work, his open-field running skills make him dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.

Johnson slips out of the backfield, setting up the screen pass from Jake Rudock. He makes the catch behind the line of scrimmage and begins to line up his path in front of him. A defender gets a free run at Johnson unblocked and the running back is able to quickly react and turn on the jets to beat the tackle. He has great balance, and shows it off by maintaining his run through an attempted shoestring tackle. Johnson cuts back outside towards the sideline when he gets caught behind a block before finally going down.

The Auburn product is hard to catch, but even if you can catch him, he’s hard to bring down. Even when he doesn’t have any space to operate he can make things happen.

The running back gets the hand off on this play and is immediately under duress. An Oakland edge defender is already diving towards him. He quickly dekes to his right dispatching the first tackler but doesn’t get a second to spare as a second defender is right on top of him. Johnson stops on a dime and slips by the second tackler as well before finally going down when he gets back to the line of scrimmage.

This is a play that shows up as a bad run in the box score. While Johnson gets credited with an inefficient 0-yard rush, in reality, he earned back 4 yards on the run by denying the Raiders a tackle for loss.

Much of Johnson’s work on Friday night came against backups and reserves. As he moves up the depth chart over the next couple of weeks, he will probably play against better competition and will have to up his game. No matter who it was against, the running back looking this good in his first taste of NFL action is great reason for Lions fans to be excited.

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