Running back from Auburn
Weight: 212 pounds
2015 Stats: 208 rushing yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 3 rushing touchdowns, 14 receptions, 159 receiving yards
2016 Stats: 895 rushing yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 11 rushing touchdowns, 17 receptions, 125 receiving yards
2017 Stats: 1391 rushing yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 18 rushing touchdowns, 24 receptions, 194 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns
Elusiveness, Power and Balance
Kerryon Johnson can do a little bit of everything. He can make defenders miss, run right over them, and possess great balance, making it hard to knock him down. Here are a few plays that exhibit these traits.
Here, Auburn throws a screen pass to Kerryon Johnson. Johnson did a good job of turning upfield and avoiding two Missouri defenders as soon as he got the ball in his hands. He then put a nice juke move on another defender, getting to the outside and allowing him to pick up a first down for Auburn.
On this play, Johnson got decent blocking from his offensive line, which allowed him to gain about five yards before he ran into an defenders. When he did, rather than going down, he broke an attempted tackle from behind with a nifty spin move, then was able to spin away from several more Alabama defenders and got to the outside. Rather than a five yard gain, Johnson’s agility earned Auburn about 15 on this play.
On this play, Auburn runs a sweep to the right side. Johnson did a good job of getting to the outside, and had only one defender between him and the goal line. Johnson was able to make the defender miss with a juke move, and walked into the endzone for a touchdown.
This play is all Kerryon Johnson making things happen. Johnson ran up the middle on 3rd down and two, and immediately displayed his power, breaking three tackles to pick up the first down. After that, he was able to cut the run to the outside and pick up a ton of additional yardage. Kerryon Johnson goes both over and around defenders on this play.
Kerryon Johnson is arguably most known for his ball carrying vision. He is often compared to Le’Veon Bell for his patient running style, waiting for blocks to develop down field. Here are three plays where Johnson shows this skill.
Johnson does a fantastic job of setting up the blocking on this run, with a slight hesitation that allowed the fullback to open a big running lane. After the fullback made the block. Johnson accelerated through the hole and picked up a significant gain, giving Auburn a first down.
Johnson was mostly bottled up in Auburn’s bowl game against UCF, but this was one of his more physical runs from that game. Johnson is given the ball going right, but immediately realized that that side of the field was clogged with defenders. Johnson was able to cut the run all the way back across the field, and follow a blocker to a first down.
This is only a two yard run from Johnson, but it’s a big two yards because it converted a fourth down and one. Johnson got the ball on the dive play, and immediately hesitated, forcing three Old Miss defenders to whiff on tackles. As Johnson made this hesitation move, the offensive line was able to open up a big enough lane for Johnson to fall forward and pick up the first down.
One thing that surprised me about Johnson was how good he is in pass protection. Auburn had him do it with great frequency and with typically good results. This makes him much more NFL ready than most running back prospects.
Auburn had Johnson help in pass protection a lot against Alabama’s fierce pass rush. On this play, Johnson’s responsibility was the outside linebacker blitzing off of the edge. Despite the linebacker being a much larger player, Johnson was able to hold his own on this play, allowing the quarterback to step up in the pocket.
This block is nowhere near as pretty, but Johnson does his job. This time, Johnson’s assignment is the blitzing Crimson Tide safety, and Johnson goes down lowing, chopping his legs out from under him. Johnson bought the quarterback just enough time to complete a pass downfield for a first down on this play.
Here is one more play against Alabama. Auburn ran a designed roll out to the left here, and Johnson making a lead block is a key part of the play. An Alabama safety blitzed off of the edge, and Johnson was able to knock him down, again buying enough time for his quarterback to complete a pass downfield. If Johnson had missed the block, this play would not have worked and the quarterback would’ve been sacked.
The biggest knock against Johnson’s play style is his indecisiveness. What I mean by this is that he sometimes dances around in the backfield too much rather than just picking a running lane and going through it. Here are a few examples of this.
This isn’t necessarily a bad play from Kerryon Johnson. He gets the ball, and runs up the middle for a two yard gain. Not a good play, not anything or horrible. What bothers me though, is his hesitation. As soon as Johnson got the ball, he hesitated, then seemed to just fall forward for a couple yards. I believe that if Johnson had just taken off up the middle instead of hesitating, this two yard gain could’ve turned into four or five.
This is another play where Johnson seems to be more focused on buying time for his blockers to develop rather than just gaining whatever yardage there is to be had. Johnson waited for blocks to develop on the right side, and was eventually tackled for a minimal gain. If he had just cut the run back and gone up the middle, this could’ve been a slightly longer gain, setting up second and medium rather than second and long.
Here is one more where Johnson’s initial move is a hesitation. Johnson waited for the blocks to develop up the middle of the field here, and instead the Alabama defense won and brought him down for a short gain. If Johnson had instead bounced this run to the right and gone outside, I think this could have been a significantly bigger run.
Injuries and Workload
Kerryon Johnson saw a large workload throughout his college career. Last season, he touched the ball an average of 26 times per game. For comparison, Le’Veon Bell led the NFL this year with 25.
This heavy work load led to some shoulder issues for Johnson, and he played through injury in the last several games of the season. Johnson didn’t actually miss any games with this injury, but it is still worrisome for a draft prospect to have these issues.
Kerryon Johnson is a talented draft prospect his is capable of doing everything you want from a starting running back. He can run with power, make defenders miss, pass protect, catch passes and he has even thrown a touchdown pass in his college career.
The downside is that he sometimes spends too much time dancing east and west in the backfield, rather than going north and south. Lots of runs that should be four or five yard gains can turn into one or two with Johnson. However, he will also turn lots of runs that would be one or two yard runs for other backs into much bigger gains.
I currently have Kerryon Johnson as a second or third round prospect. He may or may not be the next Le’Veon Bell, but I believe he showed enough in the 2017 season to confidently say he will be at worst a fine starting running back in the NFL.