Drake Johnson (#2 in white) pulls away from a couple Bedford Mules
(image via Toledo Blade)
Ann Arbor (MI) Pioneer running back Drake Johnson committed to Michigan on Tuesday morning. Johnson received the offer and accepted on the spot. He selected the Wolverines over an offer from Eastern Michigan, the only other school to pursue him.
Johnson is a 6’1″, 200 lb. runner who concentrated on track for most of his high school career. He didn’t attend football camps like most recruits, so he’s slightly under the radar. However, it’s hard to remain under the radar with a season like he’s having – that’s what happens when you rush for 2,757 yards and 37 touchdowns in your senior year, and it’s not even finished yet.
As for strengths, Johnson is extremely speedy. He’s a national-caliber hurdler and placed 3rd in the state in the hurdles . . . when he was a freshman in high school. Johnson never seems to get caught from behind, and the only time opponents gain on him is when he jogs into the endzone. When 200 pounds of that kind of speed gets going in one direction, he could be a load to take to the ground. Hurdlers typically have excellent leg strength and Johnson should be able to turn that into an ability to run through tackles, or at least gain a couple yards after contact. He also flashes the ability to catch the football naturally.
Now for the weaknesses, and there are several. First of all, Johnson too often turns his shoulders to make his cuts. This is a significant concern for me, because backs who turn their shoulders lose their momentum and get taken to the ground easier than if they run behind their pads. A kid who overpowers high school defensive backs with his size and speed might be okay (and, in fact, is quite good), but that strategy won’t be so effective in college, when the safeties get a little beefier. Running with square shoulders is kind of an instinctive thing to do, and since he hasn’t learned that yet, it’s unclear if he ever will. There are some plays that make me question his vision and instinctive running ability, because he runs into his blockers too often and fails to elude some defenders that an elite back probably should. Sometimes he looks as if he can’t decide whether he’s going to be a speed back or a power back. And to get a little nit-picky, Johnson frequently holds the ball in his right hand when going left, which can be corrected. Even nit-pickier, he’s a duck-footed runner. It’s not that I have anything against people who are duck-footed, but it’s rare to see elite athletes with that kind of gait. LeBron James is duck-footed, too, so it’s not impossible to be successful, but examples are limited.
There aren’t any recent comparisons for Johnson at Michigan. He’s a sprinter with size, which the Wolverines haven’t had since Tyrone Wheatley . . . and Johnson is no Wheatley. I have a hard time expecting success at the next level for Johnson, whose lack of cutting ability would seem to be detrimental. However, once Michigan makes the full transition to a power running offense, I think Johnson will become a more viable option at tailback. With his current size and frame, it’s not hard to see him bulking up to 220-230 lbs. If he can maintain his speed, Johnson could be a successful back behind what looks to be a powerful offensive line in the coming years. He could also contribute as a kick returner with his straight line speed.